I have a few friends who have given up on child support. One says she feels liberated by no asking her exes for child support. Part of me feels this might be an honest way to go, for if a man is not much of a worker in a partnership, he isn’t going to be outside of a partnership. Another friend took a very compassionate approach to her ex, saying she knew he wouldn’t pay child support because he had a lot of fear around money, so she didn’t even bother getting into that battle.
Both women have sacrificed a known fight in order to keep peace with their exes, and for the good of their children. I respect their decisions and admire their choices. They recognized the limitations of their exes and accepted them. They are strong women and their feminism allowed them to feel empowered by dealing with the situation realistically. They worked for peace by embracing the personhood of their exes. Their exes did not engage expensive court, since they simply did not have those resources.
However, in my case, and in the cases of many women, our choices have been taken away. There is a very real pay gap among women and men even today. When woman divorces, she is often saddled with the bulk of responsibility for many things. A deadbeat in a marriage is a deadbeat in a divorce. In my case, unlike my sweet friends’ situations, I have an ex who deliberately sought to financially cripple me. Given that so many women report on men in their Guccis and big homes who cry poor mouth to anyone who will listen, I would say my friends are rare.
Sometimes I say to myself, “yeah, but it isn’t your ex’s job to close the pay gap.” “Yeah, but you know even though your ex is hiding money now, he hasn’t really ever been a go-getter and it doesn’t make that big of a difference.” “Yeah, but what if you just pretended for the kids?”
I thank those voices because they have good points, points that might be up for discussion had my ex not used THOUSANDS of dollars of his parents’ money to drive me into debt. In other words, he used his privilege and resources as a bludgeoning tool against me. I might listen to those voices had he not deliberately reduced his income, had he not made an agreement to begin with, perhaps tricking me into a court battle. Bullying. I might even listen to those voices if he were truly destitute, without a retirement fund, without stocks in his name, without an able body and ability to work as many jobs as I do. He chose instead to create imbalance. He unapologetically goes around insisting he is very poor-maybe his mom cut him off but I doubt it. By contrast I’m at poverty level and he gets 25% of every check of mine. He works part-time and isn’t going to go full time very soon. By CHOICE-a choice I certainly don’t have.
If my situation were set in a system of mutuality instead of a toxic permutation of patriarchy-family court-things would be different. I am being disempowered by a system simply because I am a woman, and I stood up for myself. I was financially punished for standing up for myself. Therefore, my children’s quality of life was reduced and so here we are. And I’m not the only one. Men are traditionally slippery when it comes to having to pay child support. They just won’t do it. They use it to punish. Taking care of a mother, making sure their children have a good life everywhere, is a foreign concept to them. Being a benevolent, supportive person is anathema to their lifeview, or something. Or they are simply privileged and entitled and that’s how it goes.
Feminism is about equality. Equality and social justice are about distribution of resources. Taking away resources from one person, especially when that person is your coparent, is bullying and it’s abuse. This, and so many other abuses, should never be allowed in family court. For this reason, and the fact that there is documented gender bias AGAINST women in family court, child support should be taken up as a feminist issue. It should not be just another tool in an abuser’s toolbox. It should never be used to hammer out suffering in an already broken family.