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A Sobering Day for Many Fathers

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Photo by corsakti via LAist Featured Photos/Flickr

Photo by corsakti via LAist Featured Photos/Flickr
Welcome to Father's Day 2009, a Father's Day in the midst of a recession. According to an April article in the Financial Times, men lost almost 80% of the over 5 million jobs that have disappeared as the industries hit hardest by this recession, construction and manufacturing, are staffed primarily by men. Cynically, many industries might be laying off more men than women because women are (unfairly) paid less than men.

This trend is a potential disaster for everyone, but perhaps hardest hit are men who are non-custodial parents with child support arrangements. A father who seeks to modify child support payments due to a layoff or mandatory wage cut can wait, in some cases, for over six months to get a hearing in front of a judge to have a petition heard, much less have a contract modified.

Think about it, if you were on unemployment, you have venues for negotiating your other financial arrangements (mortgage, credit cards, etc.) to accommodate your drop in income, but this process takes an unreasonable amount of time when it comes to child support. The big difference is that if you default on your mortgage or don't pay your credit cards, you don't go to jail, but if a person is late in paying support payments, or if they aren't paying the full amount, they are quickly criminalized by the system and put into jail.

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NPR and the Boston Globe have both recently run stories on the effects that the economy has had on responsible parents who are facing dire circumstances.

LAist spoke with Glenn Sacks, Executive Director of Fathers & Families, about this phenomena. "What we have here is a system that is disconnected from the economic reality," said Sacks. "While there are certainly 'deadbeat fathers' out there, the truth is that there are many fathers who take their responsibilities very seriously, they want to be an active part of their children's lives, but they are disproportionately affected by what the entire country is going through right now."

"Our President is urging fathers to be 'present' in their children's lives, and the statistical evidence shows how powerful the biological father's involvement can be, but placing the blame for the absence of the father, exclusively on fathers is a mistake, particularly when you have a system that punishes the parent due to a change in economic status," said Sacks.

Sacks recently blogged about fathers getting jailed wrote a response to President Obama's Father's Day editorial.

While mothers are definitely feeling the effects of the economic downturn, there doesn't seem to be any examples of mothers going to jail because of this situation. Last week's reports of improved job prospects seem tenuous, but examining state child support law could help everyone further down the road as children without a biological father in their lives tend to be more involved in crime and risky sexual behavior, something that all of society pays for.