The war on deadbeat dads, a quarter century later

Following the 1985 publication of Lenore Weitzman’s The Divorce Revolution, an alliance of conservatives and feminists in Canada, as in the US, helped pass punitive “deadbeat dad” laws aimed at bolstering the legal position of mothers and sparing costs of welfare to the public fisc. A generation later, writes Christie Blatchford in the National Post, it has become evident that these laws

…disproportionately punish poor men from the margins. What’s more, they’ve resulted in new “debtors’ prisons.”

As [Nipissing Prof. Paul] Millar wrote in The Prosecution of Child-Support debt in Alberta, “child and spousal support … are private debts for which incarceration is a consequence of non-payment.”

…[Besides pursuing incarceration, provincial child-support] agencies can also suspend driver’s licences, impose fines, seize passports, and the debtors have little procedural protections. As Millar concluded, “… the standard of proof is lower than for civil process, yet the penalties are more severe than those for some criminal offences.

“I call this regime inverted justice, since the protections are all for the advantage and convenience of the state, rather than of the individual.”


  • So what’s a better approach? I’m all for exploring the notion of requiring a license to procreate.

  • Anonymous,
    A better approach would encourage men to pick up the tools of a trade and become more financially responsible for their children. It may be as simple as job mentoring and an affordable garnishment. Seizing a driver’s license, jailing someone, and charging them $10 per phone call is guaranteed not to work. Even most of the moms don’t want their child’s father in jail.
    Your admiration for Margaret Sanger notwithstanding (enough neer-do-wells would still be produced to keep you employed), it may offer a sense of hope and fairness in the system if the Mandarin class to which you aspire would perp walk the architects of the Great Recession and shun those of your associates who took advantage. A lot of those men on the margins gamble on a rational economy. They lost big.

  • Moderate wage garnishment can work. Excessive wage garnishment is a disincentive to work.

    I have known people who were a bit behind on their obligations but working and paying as they could who had their drivers licenses suspended by the child support system.

    Gone is the job because they can no longer drive. That means the custodial parent gets *no* payments.

    Those thrown in jail not only can’t make payments but are far less likely to find good employment afterwards.

    While these policies are likely well intended, they are counterproductive in practice.