Is the Child Support Scheme Affecting the Mental Health of Fathers

Is the Child Support Scheme Affecting the Mental Health of Fathers
Father and son. (fizkes/Shutterstock)
Augusto Zimmermann

Over one million Australian children are currently living without their fathers and the legislation underpinning the family court system and the child support scheme has been a major factor contributing to the present crisis of fatherlessness in this country.

Contrary to popular belief, child support payments have nothing to do with irresponsible fathers abandoning their children.

Developed in the late 1980s to outset the jurisdiction of the courts, the nation’s child support scheme was largely driven by the need to ensure that private transfers of money from fathers to mothers reduced the burden of the state in terms of welfare expenditure.

According to Patrick Parkinson, a professor at the University of Queensland and one of the nation’s leading family law academics, the support scheme provides “perverse incentives … for primary caregivers to resist children spending more time with the other parent to avoid a reduction in the child support obligation.”

As far as possible, he adds, these perverse incentives must be avoided, “and legislative policies in these areas should be in harmony rather than conflict.”

Many women today can contemplate divorce with greater confidence that the financial benefits might outweigh the losses. For men, by contrast, a particular cause of dismay has been the imminent loss of contact with children they have loved, protected, and helped raise.

A common scenario is where the wife leaves, taking the children with her—and sometimes all the furniture too. These wives get custody of the children, most of the value of the family house, and the child support agency ensures that the victimized husbands pay support for children they rarely see.

Another familiar scenario is where the husband is forced to pay the mortgage payments but forced to leave the family home immediately and pay rent for a separate residence for himself.

Child support payments have led to the breakdown of families in Australia. (fizkes/Shutterstock)
Child support payments have led to the breakdown of families in Australia. (fizkes/Shutterstock)
As noted by Barry Maley, a family policy expert: “His marriage and its expectations have been destroyed, he has largely lost his children, lost his home and a large part of his income. His prospects of mending his shattered and impoverished life, re-partnering, and perhaps having other children, are minimal.”

One can hear the testimony of countless husbands whose wives have run off and been awarded sole custody of children, while they are expected to pay child support and sometimes even spouse maintenance.

In this sense, research studies (pdf) indicate that divorce following the loss of meaningful contact with children is a major factor of male suicide. The death rate in Australia amongst child-support payers is almost double the rate of males who do not have administrative child support assessments.

We may therefore conclude that divorce followed by the loss of access to children has a strong net effect on mortality from suicide, but only among men. Amongst women, there are no statistically significant differentials in the risk of suicide by marital status categories.

This leads to an important question: “Why are divorced men killing themselves?”

Augustine Kpsowa, a sociology professor at the University of California-Riverside, explains that,
… there seems to be an implicit assumption that the bond between a women and her children is stronger than that between a man and his children. As a consequence, in a divorce settlement, custody of children is more likely to be given to the wife. In the end, the father loses not only his marriage, but his children.

The result may be anger at the court system especially in situations wherein the husband feels betrayed because it was the wife that initiated the divorce, or because the courts virtually gave away everything that was previously owned by the ex-husband or the now defunct household to the former wife.

Events could spiral into resentment (toward the spouse and “the system”), bitterness, anxiety, and depression, reduced self-esteem, and a sense of “life not worth living.” As depression and poor mental health are known markers of suicide risk, it may well be that one of the fundamental reasons for the observed association between divorce and suicide in men is the impact of post divorce (court sanctioned) “arrangements.” Add in accusations of domestic violence and the father not only will be evicted from his property but also required to prove his innocence before he is allowed within 100 metres (328 feet) of his children.
A family walks together in Westminster, Calif., on Sept. 22, 2020. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)
A family walks together in Westminster, Calif., on Sept. 22, 2020. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)
As noted by David Collier, a retired judge from the Parramatta Family Court, false accusations of domestic violence orders have become a “major weapon” in the war between parents to secure the sole custody of children.

The problem is how family violence orders are issued and the grounds for which they are made. There is a notorious lack of scrutiny about the nature and substance of these serious complaints.

Timing is a possible sign that someone is seeking such an order for some reasons which are other than a real concern for safety. A common example is that, after initiating custody proceedings, the accuser applies for this restraining order with the practical effect of obtaining an upper hand at family court proceedings.

Of course, not everyone who applies for a family violence order is necessarily a genuine victim, just as not everyone who is subject to such an order is not necessarily the perpetrator.

It goes without saying that laws cannot be written to the sole advantage of one partner without being labelled overtly sexist.  Likewise, they can and have been used by male partners for equally malicious purposes.

In sum, there is a clear link between the child support scheme and attempts to eradicate the relationship between children and fathers. These fathers are paying support through the government yet alienated from their children.

Given that child support is calculated on the number of nights children spend with fathers, a moral hazard is created that can tempt a primary carer to withhold access for the basest of reasons, money.
If you need crisis support call Lifeline 13 11 14
Correction: Professor Patrick Parkinson is no longer dean of Law at the University of Queensland. The Epoch Times regrets the error.
Views expressed in this article are opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.
Augusto Zimmermann, Ph.D., LLD, is a professor and head of law at Sheridan Institute of Higher Education in Perth. He is also president of the Western Australian Legal Theory Association and served as a commissioner with the Law Reform Commission of Western Australia from 2012 to 2017. Prof. Zimmermann has authored numerous books, including “Western Legal Theory: History, Concepts and Perspectives" and “Foundations of the Australian Legal System: History, Theory, and Practice.”