Why has Congress
appropriated taxpayer money to give
perverse incentives that
break up families and deprive children
of their fathers? The built-in financial
incentives in the current child-support
system have expanded the tragedy of
fatherless children from the welfare
class to millions of non-welfare divorced
Americans have finally realized that
providing generous welfare through
Aid to Families with Dependent Children
was counterproductive because the
father had to disappear in order for
the mother to receive taxpayer-paid
Fathers left home, illegitimacy rose
in alarming numbers and children were
AFDC provided a taxpayer-paid financial
incentive to reward girls with
their own monthly check, food stamps,
health care and housing if they had
illegitimate babies. "She doesn't
need me, she's got welfare" became
Congress tried to reform the out-of-control
welfare system by a series
of child-support laws passed in 1975,
1984, 1988, 1996 (the famous Republican
welfare reform), and 1999. Unfortunately,
these laws morphed the welfare system
into a massive middle-class child-support
system that deprives millions of children
of fathers who never abandoned them.
As former President Ronald Reagan
often said, "The most terrifying
words in the English language are:
"I'm from the government and
I'm here to help you."
People think that child-support enforcement
benefits children, but it doesn't.
When welfare agencies collect child
support, the money actually goes to
the government to reimburse it for
welfare payments already given to
mothers, supposedly to reduce the
federal budget (which, of course,
is never reduced).
In 1984, Congress passed the Child
Support Enforcement Amendment. It
required states to adopt voluntary
guidelines for child-support payments.
In 1988, Congress passed the Family
Support Act, which made the guidelines
mandatory -- along with criminal enforcement
-- and gave states less than one year
to comply. The majority of states
quickly adopted the model guidelines
conveniently already written by a
Department of Health and Human Services
consultant who was president of what
was shortly to become one of the nation's
largest private collection companies,
which makes its profits on the onerous
guidelines that create arrearages.
The 1988 law extended the guidelines
to ALL child-support orders, even
though the big majority of those families
never had to interact with government
in order to pay or receive child support.
This massive expansion of federal
control over private lives uses a
Federal Case Registry to exercise
19 million citizens whether or not
they are behind in child-support payments.
The states collect the child-support
money and deposit it in a state
fund, but the federal government pays
most of the administrative costs and,
therefore, dictates the way the system
operates through mandates and financial
incentives. The federal government
pays 66 percent of the states' administrative
overhead costs, 80 percent of computer
and technology-enhancement costs,
and 90 percent of DNA testing for
In addition, the states share in a
nearly $500 million incentive reward
pool based on whatever the state collects.
The states can get a waiver to spend
this bonus money anyway they choose.
However, most of the child support
owed by welfare-class fathers is uncollectable.
Most of them are either unemployed
or have annual incomes less than $10,000.
So, in order to cash in on federal
bonus money, build their bureaucracies
and brag about successful child-support
enforcement, the states began bringing
into the government system middle-class
fathers with jobs who were never (and
probably would never be) on welfare.
These non-welfare families have grown
to represent 83 percent of child-support
cases and 92 percent of the money
collected, creating a windfall of
federal money flowing to the states.
The federal incentives drive the system.
The more divorces, and the higher
the child-support guidelines are set
and enforced (no matter how unreasonable),
the more money state bureaucracies
collect from the federal government.
Follow the money. The less time that
noncustodial parents (usually fathers)
are permitted to be with their children,
the more child support they are required
pay into the state fund, and the higher
the federal bonus to the states for
collecting the money.
States have powerful incentives to
separate fathers from their children,
to give near-total custody to mothers,
to maintain the fathers' high-level
support obligations even if their
income is drastically reduced and
to hang onto the father's payments
as long as possible before paying
them out to the mothers. The General
Accounting Office reported that in
2002 that states were holding $657
million in undistributed child support.
Fatherless boys are 63 percent more
likely to run away and 37 percent
more likely to abuse drugs. Fatherless
girls are twice as likely to get pregnant
and 53 percent more likely to commit
suicide. Fatherless boys and girls
are twice as likely to drop out of
high school and twice as likely to
end up in jail.
We can no longer ignore how taxpayer
money is providing incentive for divorce
and creating fatherless children.
Nor can we ignore the government's
complicity in the predictable social
costs that result from more than 17
million children growing up without
Mrs. Schlafly is
the author of the new book
The Supremacists: The Tyranny of Judges
and How to Stop It