In April 2004,
music and fashion mogul Sean "Diddy''
Combs was ordered to pay the mother
of his first child, Misa Hylton-Brim,
just under $35,000 per month in child
support -- the largest amount awarded
in New York state history. Combs and
his lawyers had the sum reduced to
$21,782 and then again to about $19,000
a month. But even that cut rate made
his royal Diddy-ness the poster papa
for men who feel child support awards
are becoming increasingly unfair to
fathers. "A court doesn't tell
me what to do to support my child,"
a heated Combs said to the NY Daily
News after the verdict. "This
is not about child support, it's about
adult support." Though most men
are nowhere in the financial stratosphere
of Combs, child support today is as
volatile an issue to brothers in barber
shops as it is to Bobby Brown. Many
men feel as if they are being entrapped,
stigmatized and even criminalized,
when it comes to current child support
And many black women want their children
supported. But because nearly 70 percent
of black children are born out of
wedlock, there needs to be a happy
medium if the community is to thrive.
Whereas in the past, child support
was seen as more a moral issue --
men who make children should always
be responsible for them -- it is now
more about economics, even if it's
not politically correct to say so.
After President Bill Clinton's welfare
reform bill, the government (and tax
payers) began aggressively shifting
the burden of support to fathers,
where many claim it should be. Yet,
in a recent New York Times article
on the perilous state of black men
('Plight Deepens for Black Men, Studies
Warn,' March 20, 2006), Georgetown
University economist Harry J. Holzer
said that after incarceration, "the
stricter enforcement of child support"
policies is the largest factor in
keeping young black men tethered to
poverty. By keeping young black men
overwhelmed by debt and therefore
outside of legal employment, support
obligations "amount to a tax
Christian Wilder, a writer from Philadelphia,
PA, agrees. Wilder currently has custody
of his 10-year-old son, and pays child
support for his two daughters (ages
3 and 7), whom he says he rarely sees.
An avid advocate of family court reform,
Wilder believes that the ways the
current laws are structured, that
a man in essence can never have another
family because he is already supporting
one through child support. "When
you're married, you're committed to
a family," says Wilder. "When
you have sex with someone you've met
in a club, you haven't committed to
a thing." "While a woman
has all of those options of keeping
the child and raising it, a man can
only just follow the whim of the woman,"
he continues. "And when a woman
has a child, the man becomes financially
responsible." Wilder advocates
that when a man is married to a woman
and they separate or divorce, that
support obligations should be at their
current rate which in some states
is about 17 percent of a man's earnings.
However, as is the case in Australia,
if two people are not married, the
rate of obligation decreases to about
8 to 10 percent of the father's income.
"If there wasn't a guarantee
of financial support, a lot of these
babies wouldn't even be born,"
argues Wilder. "There are people
who can't afford babies, but they
go ahead. Getting him for child support,
then he can't support his own family.
There shouldn't be a guarantee."
In a recently filed lawsuit in a Michigan
Court, 25-year-old Matt Dubay is fighting
a court order to pay child support
to his ex-girlfriend because he said
he was clear from the beginning that
he didn't want a child. Dubay was
ordered to pay $500 a month to a daughter
born last year, although his girlfriend
repeatedly told him she could not
get pregnant. The National Center
for Men brought the case on behalf
of Dubay, and dubbed the case the
"Male Roe vs. Wade." NCM
argues that the present policies do
not give men equal protection under
the law. Mel Feit, founder and director
of New York-based organization, asks
why women have seemingly endless choices
when it comes to dealing with pregnancy
-- from birth control to adoption
to abortion to abandonment (which
is legal in most states), while men
are limited to condom usage or celibacy.
"I think that the whole point
of Roe is that celibacy shouldn't
be the only way to exercise birth
control and reproductive choice,"
says Feit. "That's exactly what
Roe means for women." Feit actually
advocates a short (maybe 1-2 weeks)
opt-out period, where the man can
tell the woman that he does not want
responsibility for the child. He then
would have no obligation of support
for the child but couldn't later change
his mind and be in the child's life.
Though most scholars and legal experts
don't think this case has a snowball's
chance in hell, Dubay has said that
he wants to get the dialogue started,
and Feit, possibly facetiously says
he wouldn't have brought the case
forward if he thought they couldn't
prevail. Leslie Sorkhe, Director of
Operations for ACES, the Association
for Children for Enforcement of Support
says the Dubay suit has no merit,
legally or morally. "We feel
that the suit is ridiculous, and we
feel like children deserve emotional
and financial support from both parents,"
she says. "Children are entitled
to equal protection under the law."
In terms of black men specifically,
Wilder says that current system just
increases criminalization. "Now,
you're a criminal," says Wilder,
speaking of existing court policies.
"They're garnishing your paycheck.
You're embarrassed throughout your
life. Now there's a letter coming
down to your job. You can't go to
jail for any other monetary debt.
There's no debtors jail in this country
unless it's child support. They take
your driver's license away, it's on
your credit report, imputing income
that you don't have. This stuff happens
every day." "If you have
sex without a condom, the punishment
shouldn't be that you live at the
poverty level for 20 years,"
Wilder continues. "The bottom
line is that it changes your life
too much for you to not have a choice."