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|The examples and perspective in this article deal primarily with the United States and do not represent a worldwide view of the subject. (January 2014)|
Deadbeat parent is a racialized pejorative term to parents of either gender who evades court ordered child support obligations. Primarily used in the United States and Canada, the gender-specific deadbeat dad and deadbeat mom are commonly used to refer to men and women who have fathered or mothered a child and intentionally fail to pay child support ordered by a family law court or statutory agency such as the Child Support Agency.
According to the United States Census Bureau, 42% of custodial mothers (as "obligees") received all child support that they were owed and 70.5% received some. Additionally, 34.1% of custodial fathers (as "obligees") received all child support that they were owed and 72.9% received some.
Child support assessments are made based on a variety of formulae, and vary from state to state in the United States. According to one study 38% of Illinois "obligor" parents not paying child-support said they lacked the money to pay. 23% used non-payment to protest a lack of visitation rights. 69% complained of no accountability over the spending of their child support money, while 13% said they did not want their child or children and 12% denied parentage. (See paternity fraud.)
According to a California study, 76% of the $14.4 billion in child support arrears in California has been attributed to "obligors" who lack the ability to pay (see Figure 1, p. 5-4). In California, the "deadbeat" parents had a median annual income of $6349, arrears of $9447, ongoing support of $300 per month. One reason given for this was that 71% of the orders were set by default—meaning that person who supposedly owes support was not personally served with a notice to appear before the court or administrative agency. A notice is sent to the last known address, which may have changed.
The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) of 1996, 42 U.S.C. 653a, established in 1997 a New Hire Registry in which all employers in the United States, private or public, State and Federal, must report all newly hired employees within 20 days or less depending on how they report. The report includes name, address and Social Security number of each new employee. States are required to match reports of newly hired employees against social security numbers of persons having outstanding child support orders, and to issue an order to the employer to withhold and forward unpaid child support payments.
There are now many collections-oriented sites on the Internet that mention or highlight deadbeat parents, some even showing mug shots and marking the photos as "found" in the style of the FBI's "most wanted" list.
In the United States, persons in arrears for child support payments are potentially subject to incarceration. Other penalties for child-support non-payment also exist. Many U.S. states suspend an individual's licenses (i.e. driver's license, business license, contractor license) if that individual has significant arrearage in support payments or does not consistently pay support. This authority does not extend to professionals who receive licensure through non-governmental agencies. In 2000, the state of Tennessee revoked the driver’s licenses of 1,372 people who collectively owed more than $13 million USD in child support. In Texas non-custodial parents behind more than three months in child-support payments can have court-ordered payments deducted from their wages, can have federal income tax refund checks, lottery winnings, or other money that may be due from state or federal sources intercepted by child support enforcement agencies, can have licenses (including hunting and fishing licenses) suspended, and a judge may sentence a nonpaying parent to jail and enter a judgment for past due child support. However, on September 4, 1998, the Supreme Court of Alaska upheld a law allowing state agencies to revoke driver's licenses of parents seriously delinquent in child support obligations. And in the case of United States of America v. Rosen, U.S. Court of Appeals (2nd Cir., 1996), the court upheld the constitutionality of a law allowing federal fines and up to two years imprisonment for a person willfully failing to pay more than $5,000 in child support over a year or more when said child resides in a different state from that of the non-custodial parent.
The term deadbeat parent is a pejorative term used more by child support advocacy groups than by Governmental Child Support Agencies. Child Support Agencies described clients either as in compliance, not in compliance or criminally non compliant. Compliance is judged by the paying party's performance in meeting the terms of the Child Support court order. However, some local authorities have mounted campaigns targeting so called "deadbeats" and eliciting a more excited emotional public response.
The men's rights activist Glenn Sacks regularly publicizes situations in which government authorities target so-called deadbeat parents, noting that jailing people for non-payment (whether men or women), vilifying public campaigns naming and shaming such people can be ineffective and fraught with error where the identification is incorrect.
The late men's rights activist Wilbur Street was an activist in the father's rights movement. Wilbur lost his high paying job when he developed amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (also known as "Lou Gehrig’s disease"). The New Jersey system ignored Wilbur's disease and imputed a high income to him, despite his level of disability. In 2005, Wilbur was jailed for a child support arrearage based upon his imputed income. He died in a New Jersey jail on the second day of his incarceration from complications of ALS. Wilbur's daughter has taken up Wilbur's campaign and has become an activist in the cause of father's rights.
Stephen Rene has been lobbying state and federal legislators since 2001 to share the message that comes from sharing positive parenting results. The United States Congress responded with the new Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction And Enforcement Act. This balances the legislation passed in 1996 on Child Support Enforcement for parents that should not be discriminated against based on race, gender, religion or parenting status.