It was fascinating to watch the media recently making a complete botch of facts (as per usual) in order to generate reader interest. This mangling of fact in favour of ‘readability appeal’ (fiction) happens all too frequently in our media — something that is costing us dearly as a society, as our perceptions of social reality become evermore distorted by the nonsense we read in newspapers.

The recent reporting of child support debt is a case in point. The Sydney Morning Herald (per reporter Tony Vermeer on 1 August 2004) claimed that “Figures for 2003-2004 showed 41 per cent of fathers pay $5 or less a week in maintenance”.  Really, Tony?  So 41 in every one hundred child-support-paying fathers pay less than $5?

Shocking figures indeed. And entirely inaccurate. (The $5 amount of course is the minimum that must be paid even if the payer is unemployed or on a pension. Thus we are supposed to assume that 41% of fathers are throwing in their jobs to avoid paying child support.)

The actual CSA figures (well according to the Adelaide Advertiser) said: 77 PER CENT of parents pay under $100 a week. Of those, 56 PER CENT pay less than $40 a week. Of those, 41 PER CENT pay $5 a week or less. If you do some basic math (or just use common sense), then the number of payers who pay $5pw or less actually falls to 18 for every one hundred. A figure significantly less than that touted by Vermeer.

Of course, even the statement that 77 per cent of parents pay under $100 a week is value-laden.  We are supposed to be indignant that so little is paid, when we all know it costs more than a hundred dollars a week to feed, clothe and house children.

The issue is not what is paid, however, but what the actual child support liability is, when both parents’ incomes, ages and number of children and the extent to which the children are cared for by both parents is all fed into the mixing pot. To talk about what is paid as opposed to what is actually liable to be paid is entirely misleading.

Note that the CSA itself also uses the term ‘parents’ as opposed to ‘fathers’.  This is because some 10% (or more) of non-custodial child support payers are actually mothers. So, returning to our much-maligned $5 fathers, let’s drop our 18% by another 10 % (1.8) to arrive at a closer figure for fathers. That brings us down to 16.2 in every one hundred.

Now as bizarre as it may seem to poor old Tony, some fathers actually do only have a $5 per week child support liability. Say for example, they have two children, but one is already 18 and out of the system.  The other is still in the system but aged $16+, and the mother and father are earning roughly the same income, averaging around the $30,000 mark, and the child spends some nights a week with the father.   The result is a child support liability of only $5 per week. In fact, there are a number of different permutations of number and age of children, shared care and parental incomes that can bring about such a small child support liability.

Of course, it is impossible to say how many fathers fall into this category, but let’s guesstimate’ that it is 3 in a hundred.  That brings our 16.2 down further to 13.2 in one hundred who purportedly fall into the ‘Deadbeat Dad’ category.

Now strange as it may seem in this land of milk and disinformation, we currently have a national unemployment rate running at a seemingly intractable, but historically low,  5.5%. If you accept that the national unemployed figure must in fairness be equally applied to our remaining cohort of ‘$5 fathers’  (i.e. that we must assume that they face the same barriers to employment, such as re-training needs, language and cultural barriers, regional job shortages, etc.), then the remaining figure drops to about 12.5 in every one hundred.

(In fact, structural unemployment becomes a major factor for many divorced fathers, because the most common age for separation and divorce is after 40, and we all know how anyone over 40 faces an uphill battle to get back into the labour force if they have lost their job.)

Then of course there are those who are on permanent disability pensions. Hardly surprising that this group would feature, given the shocking rates of workplace injury amongst the largely male blue-collar workforce. Let’s allow a grossly understated 1% for this group, bringing us down to 11.5%.

As odd as it may seem, a small percentage of this remainder is not actually unemployed or on a permanent disability pension, but simply are not earning sufficient income to actually incur a liability.  The obvious example of this is the drought-stricken farmer. But there are others. Someone who was retrenched and is trying to establish a small business or pursuing further study to get back into the workforce are other obvious examples. How do we account for them statistically? Well, we can only guess — but lets assume for the sake of neatness that it is about 1.5%, which then rounds our residual non-paying or $5 father group down to a nice even 10 in one hundred (or 10%).

Now we are arriving closer to the ‘hard core’ of non-paying fathers — and it is a figure far different from Tony Vermeer’s 41%.

The next question then becomes, why doesn’t this hard core group just pay up?

(To be continued next week.)

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By Quentin Kay
Photo: Pixabay/Pexels

Published On: August 29th, 20040 CommentsTags: , , , , , ,

About the Author: Guest Writer

Dads4Kids is a harm prevention charity committed to excellence in fathering. Our vision is to transform the nation by inspiring fathers to help their children be the best they can be.There’s a crisis in Australia. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, 870,000 children, more than 1 in 6, live without their biological father at home.

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