A BU-affiliated friend on Facebook highlighted “Where’s Daddy? Examines Interplay of Race and a Flawed Child Support System” (BU Today):
Parents who have no reported income and those who make less than $10,000 a year account for 70 percent of the total child support debt owed, according to a study by the Urban Institute. Parents in child support default often face strained family relations, financial ruin, and in extreme cases, jail time. In his new feature-length documentary Where’s Daddy? BU alum Rel Dowdell tackles the dysfunctional child support system, which he argues is especially hard on African American fathers.
Take the case of Walter L. Scott, who was $18,000 in child support default when he was pulled over by police in 2015 and fatally shot in the back as he fled on foot. Scott’s brother said it was the threat of jail time and the loss of his job, two consequences he had suffered previously, that compelled him to run.
Where’s Daddy can be seen on Vimeo and rented or purchased on Amazon.com.
Is the premise of the movie flawed? Family court is set up to benefit children, right? Therefore adult suffering shouldn’t matter, even if the hardship falls hardest on black American men. From the “Children, Mothers, and Fathers” chapter,
“Child Support and Young Children’s Development” (Nepomnyaschy, et al, 2012; Social Science Review 86:1), a Rutgers and University of Wisconsin study of children of lower income unmarried parents, found that any kind of court involvement was associated with harm to children: “We also find that provision of formal [court-ordered] child support is associated with worse withdrawn and aggressive behaviors.” The authors found that informal (voluntary) support from fathers could be helpful to children living with single mothers but court-ordered support, even when the cash was actually transferred, was on balance harmful.
In other words, the suffering of the adult black men ends up making their biological children worse off, not better off. In terms of spending power within the mother’s household, at the lower end of the income scale there is no difference whether the father is successfully tapped for child support. Mom is entitled to a free house, free health care, free food, and a free smartphone. If the defendant pays something, the welfare state will pay a little less (but still pretty close to the full $60,000+/year cost for a welfare family). If the defendant doesn’t pay, the welfare state has to provide anyway. At higher income levels, economists have found that mothers use child support to cut their working hours more or less dollar for dollar. So if the defendant pays, the mom has more leisure time. Spending power and standard of living within the mother’s household remains constant.
Thus the psychologists and economists suggest that the movie’s premise is not flawed. Yet will anyone pay to see this? Righteous Americans say that “Black Lives Matter” and even hang the banners outside their homes and (all-white) churches. But do they act as though the lives of black low-income men actually do matter? In our post-divorce litigation chapter we quote a legislator who actually does care:
Maryland State Assembly Delegate Jill Carter explained how it worked for her constituents: “A lot of men fall into arrearages and have to live in the shadows. They can’t drive, can’t work without their entire paycheck being garnished, and are sometimes imprisoned. Even if a man is well-intentioned, unless he wins the lottery he can’t get out of it.”
(If Carter cares, why isn’t she able to do something? The bills that she introduces to address the suffering of her black male constituents in Maryland’s family courts are voted down by white legislators, for example:
Carter has sponsored a bill for a rebuttable presumption of 50/50 shared parenting. What are its chances? “The Women’s Caucus staged a walk-off the last time the bill got out of committee.” Why does Carter keep introducing this kind of legislation? “I’m not married and I don’t have kids,” she responded. “I don’t have a dog in this fight. But from working with my constituents and clients in my law practice I can see how unfair the current system is.” Who benefits from leaving things the way they are? “Wealthy lawyers who represent people in Montgomery County,” she responded.
I wonder who funds a movie like this in a country where people are most passionate about the lives of the Marvel superheroes.