The Child Support Issue
Women have a right to choose; men do not.

Abortion and Fathers' Rights 

(Well-written essay outlining the current inconsistencies in our system and possible solutions.)

It's Ten O'Clock: Do You Know Where Your Sperm Are?

(Strict Liability Theory of Parentage)

 A man's right to choose

("[The man] does not have the luxury, after the fact of conception, to decide that he is not ready for fatherhood.")

 Hermesmann v. Seyer

("The civil court nevertheless established a strong precedent suggesting that statutory rape, by the mother, would not excuse the father from paying child support.")

A man's right to choose an abortion

(Pro-choice. Keep your laws off my body. Every child a wanted child.Does that apply to men, too?")

Termination of Parental Rights

("District Court Judges are extremely reluctant to terminate
parent's rights voluntarily and certainly not where the termination is not
agreed upon by the custodial parent.")

Support for IVF Children

("The Massachusetts Appeals Court has ruled that a man whose estranged wife conceived twins through in vitro fertilization must pay child support even though the children are not biologically his and despite a signed agreement between the couple that he is not financially responsible for them,")

In the course of the abortion debate, one of the more common assertions is that "sex is not a contract."  Other variations of this idea include:

  • Consent to A doesn't mean consent to B (that is, consent to sex doesn't mean consent to procreation).
  • You clearly don't consent to pregnancy if you are using contraceptives.
  • Consent can be revoked at any time.
  • Sex is not a crime and thus should not be punished / Rights cannot be restricted unless there is a crime.

The problem with these arguments is that, when it comes to reproduction, they only apply to women. 

*****

If a man gets a woman pregnant--be it his wife, girlfriend, a 2-week affair, or a one night stand--he is legally bound to provide support for that child until the child is 18 years old.  Thus, by participating in the child's conception (by having sex), a man's rights can be altered.  It doesn't matter if the man was only consenting to sex, and not to reproduction.  It doesn't matter if the man used contraceptives.   And child support laws have been in effect for quite awhile, yet sex has not been listed as a crime.

The most common initial response to this predicament is that a man can still effectively revoke consent by finding various ways to not pay child support. 

If he didn't want to have a kid, he can give up his parental rights and then not have any obligations to the child.

Untrue. Unless another parent adopts the child, relinquishment of parental rights is a difficult process to undertake.  Typically, parental rights aren't relinquished but rather terminated. Termination of parental rights is not done by the biological parent at all, but by the courts in situations where a parent is abusive and it is determined that the child would be better off placed elsewhere.  Even if the father could relinquish his parental rights, it doesn't necessarily mean his obligations cease.  Many courts consider parental obligations and termination of parental rights two separate issues:

"A parent who relinquishes under this subsection remains financially responsible for the child and the court may order the parent to pay the reasonable costs of the child's support." ~ Voluntary Termination of Parental Rights (Relinquishment): Procedure

So what if the father can't be released from his obligation legally?  He can get out of it financially.  After all, they can't expect him to pay if he hasn't got the money.

Yes, they can.  Ignoring the fact that this "solution" requires a man to have no money and no job, it doesn't get men out of their obligations anyway.  The courts determine child support based not only on what a man earns, but on what he has the ability to earn.   This means if a man takes a job with lower pay than his previous job, say because the second job gives him more satisfaction, the courts can decide what he owes based on what he formerly made, as opposed to what he's actually making now.  This of course also applies if a man has no job at all.  

The laws are designed specifically to prevent people from getting out of child support. Even if a man declares bankruptcy, when his other debts are erased, whatever he owes in child support remains. A man's child support obligations aren't even erased if he goes to prison--he must petition the court to see if he can get a reduction in his support order, and child support obligations still continue until the child is 18. 

In short, if a man has sex he runs the risk of being (rather tightly) bound to any new life he creates.

What if he just refuses to pay?  What if he skips his payments, gives the mother a hard time, leaves town?

There are many methods for enforcing child support.  A man's tax refunds can be intercepted, his property seized, businesss or occupational license suspended, and in some states his driver's license can be revoked.  If he still fails to make payment, he can be held in contempt and given jail time.

*****

When it comes to reproductive rights, there is inherent inequality in our system.  After conception, the woman has a very clear means of getting out of any future obligations: abortion.  The man has no comparable means.  In the essay "Abortion and Fathers' Rights", author Stephen D. Hales summarizes the situation:

"...the father, having participated in conception, cannot escape the future duties he will have toward the child. The father can decide that he cannot afford another child, that he is not psychologically prepared to be a parent, that a child would hinder the lifestyle he wishes to pursue, and so on, to no avail."

Hales goes on to analyze the benefits and drawbacks of several possible ways to undo this inequality.  The two most obvious possibilities are:

  1. Allow the man to legally choose to refuse to pay future child support, just as the woman can legally choose to get an abortion.
  2. Continue to require the man to be legally bound as he is now, but also require the woman to be legally bound: restrict abortion.

Clearly from the pro-life perspective, option #2 is the ideal.  Men aren't required to pay child support to punish them for having sex--they are required to pay because it's best for the child.  Similarly, women should not be required to carry pregnancies to punish them for having sex--they should carry their pregnancies in the interest of the fetuses growing inside them.  It's not about punishment, it's about protection.

Of course, many people find the idea of compelled gestation completely abhorrent. That brings us back to option #1.  Hayes outlines how this might work:

"A man has the moral right to decide not to become a father (in the social, nonbiological sense) during the time that the woman he has impregnated may permissibly abort. He can make a unilateral decision whether to refuse fatherhood, and is not morally obliged to consult with the mother or any other person before reaching a decision. Moreover, neither the mother nor any other person can veto or override a man's decision about becoming a father. He has first and last say about what he does with his life in this regard."

He concludes:

"If the mother can escape future duties to her progeny via the mechanism of abortion, the father also can escape future duties to his progeny via the mechanism of refusal."

Pro-choicers should recognize that if they are going to fight for the woman's right to choose, consistency requires them to argue for the man's right to choose as well: as women can "walk away" from their pregnancies, men should be able to walk away from their pregnant women.