Lifetime TV Beats Up on Divorced Dads

May 18th, 2009 9:51 PM

Strong families need strong fathers, but American television has come a long way from the 1950s series "Father Knows Best."

 Now Lifetime TV, a network known for its movies about women being endangered by men, has sunk to a new low - a reality program called "Deadbeat Dads."

 In the beginning of gotcha TV, viewers enjoyed watching the police bust down a door and haul away the bad guy on a show like "Cops." That same format migrated over to Animal Planet, where the cops bust down the door and arrest the man who has been starving his dogs or kicking his cats. Now Lifetime is doing the same thing to divorced fathers.

Lifetime TV's new reality show, "Deadbeat Dads," centers around National Child Support founder Jim Durham, who finds and confronts dads who do not pay their child support. Reuters news agency reports that Mr. Durham "functions as sort of a 'Dog the Bounty Hunter' for tracking deadbeats ... it's ambush reality TV." However, the reality show, originally developed at Fox as "Bad Dads" and later dropped, is Lifetime's attempt to take cheap shots at men while ignoring the damage the show can cause children, wives and other family members.

 The Lifetime TV program ignores the numbers. More than 90 percent of fathers with joint custody paid the support due, according to a Census Bureau report (Series P-23, No. 173). So deadbeats are in the minority. Also, most so-called deadbeat dads actually are dead broke. Two-thirds of men who fail to make child-support payments earn poverty-level wages, according to the Federal Office of Child Support Enforcement. Most of the others are unemployed.

 Bruce Walker, executive coordinator at the District Attorneys Council in Oklahoma City, who ran the state's child-support enforcement program for three years and jailed hundreds of fathers for nonpayment, told the Newark Star-Ledger in 2002: "These men are seldom the mythical monsters described by politicians."

 "Many times I prosecuted impoverished men," he told the Star-Ledger. "I prosecuted one deadbeat dad who had been hospitalized for malnutrition and another who lived in the bed of a pickup truck."

 Nor is it likely that Lifetime will ever show that some fathers simply give money directly to their teenage children because some mothers end up using child-support payments for everything but the child.

 Child visitation and child support are tied together, at least in the minds of many fathers. The largest federally funded study of child-support payments was led by Arizona State University researcher Sanford Braver over an eight-year period. Mr. Braver found that fathers with joint custody pay 90.2 percent of all child support ordered. Fathers with visitation rights pay 79.1 percent of all child support ordered. However, fathers with no access or visitation rights to their children pay just 44.5 percent of the court-ordered child support. Much of Mr. Braver's data was backed up in the Census Bureau report (Series P-23, No. 173).

 But what about divorced moms who do not allow the father to visit his children, despite court orders allowing him to do so? Another study, "Visitational Interference: A National Study" by J. Annette Vanini and Edward Nichols, found that 77 percent of noncustodial fathers are not able to spend time with their children, as ordered by the court, as a result of "visitation interference" perpetuated by the custodial parent. This would mean that noncompliance with court-ordered visitation is three times the problem of noncompliance with court-ordered child support. In short, lousy moms outnumber deadbeat dads 3-1.

 Will Lifetime TV be truthful about how often some mothers end a relationship with the father, take custody of the children and refuse to allow the father access to the children? Indeed, after the age of 40, women initiate more divorces than men.

While sometimes it seems that Lifetime has an anti-male agenda, perhaps it is simply pandering to embittered moms who make up the network's audience. The full tragedy of the collapse of many American families remains untold. It is a worthy subject, but it must be told without ideology; it must be clear-eyed about the myriad ways men and women have failed each other. Such radical honesty would make for compelling television and would be a public service. Pity Lifetime is not daring enough to try it.

This article was crossposted  from The Washington Times Editorial Page

Kerry Picket is an online producer with the Washington Times