The federal office that oversees child support estimates Americans owe over $100 billion in child support per year. The average rate of collection from state to state is about 50 percent, though this number varies greatly, as the District of Columbia has a collection rate of just 16 percent, while Utah has a collection rate of 78 percent.
Legislation on child support also varies from state to state. California, for example, considers a man the legal father of a child even if the child is not biologically his, granted the woman he is married to gave birth to that child. As such, he can be subject to child support payments. There was a recent case of a man in Maine who was ordered to pay $10,000 in child support to a woman he had a one night stand with, even after he found out the child wasn’t his.
Clearly, legislation passed regarding child support has the best interest of the child as its core concerns.
Though I appreciate the benefits of child support, these payments, in the case of unwed men or those who pay for children not biologically theirs, unfairly distribute the responsibility of financial care for the child to men. This is not about the fairness of child support concerning individuals who were married or living as married couples and created children out of that union. The mutual obligation of domiciled parents who create and/or raise children is clear.
Traditionally, we consider men equally responsible for children because they are willing participants in sexual activity. One might argue if a man doesn’t want to pay child support, he shouldn’t be having sex. However, this unfairly places the decision-making burden on men.
The decision to have sex is more involved than simply evaluating the ups and downs of the physical activity itself. Aside from worries about STDs, there are considerations regarding birth control and what would happen in the case of pregnancy. Women have exclusive access to knowledge regarding birth control activities, ovulation cycles, and feelings about abortion and adoption. If all these aspects are considered when one is deciding to partake in sexual activity, men are being held equally responsible for a decision for which they have access to minimal information. Though women may choose to share the information, men have no guaranteed what she relays is accurate, and should not be held accountable for it.
Some argue the point is moot, as a woman cannot become pregnant without a man. This argument is not convincing, however, as claiming a person cannot arrive at a particular outcome without another individuals’ involvement does not necessarily mean both parties should share equal responsibility for that outcome.
Suppose a man pays a tattoo artist to ink a tribute to the popular 80s band KISS on his forehead. Several weeks later, the man decides he isn’t terribly fond of KISS, and wants the artist to pay a portion of the cost of the removal of the tattoo. Though the man could not have gotten that tattoo without the involvement of the artist, we would not hold the artist responsible for its removal, as it was the decision of the man to get the tattoo in the first place.
Additionally, suggesting a woman needs a man to become pregnant does not address the power a woman has to have sex and not become pregnant, or to avoid raising a child she doesn’t want. Women have access to multiple reliable forms of birth control before and after sex, in addition to abortion options. For those women opposed to pregnancy prevention methods, adoption is an available option. In some states, a person can drop a baby off at a hospital 72 hours after birth, no questions asked. I cannot imagine a case where a woman would have to keep a child she did not want.
Then there’s the argument that men should pay child support simply because children share 50 percent of their genetic material. Though a child may share his parents’ genetic material, this does not seem to be a consistent methodology the state uses to determine when child support should be paid. The example cited whereby men with no genetic relation to children are still forced to pay child support illustrates this point clearly. Additionally, a woman can give her child up for adoption without paying anything toward supporting the child. These examples suggest genetic relation alone does not determine when child support should be paid.
Additionally, although a man shares genetic material with his child, children are the full responsibility of their mothers, at least until birth. Men have no power when it comes to a woman’s decision to receive prenatal care, have an abortion, or even give a child up for adoption. If genetics have no impact on a person’s power to determine the fate of a pregnancy, it does not seem consistent to say they do determine responsibility.
Although I do believe the interests of children are important, and should be considered when passing legislation regarding their financial support, I do not believe that support should be granted without fair consideration for the interests of everybody involved.
Jes Bohn is a senior philosophy major and president of the Student Philosophy Society.