Book Review

July 23, 2002
Divorced Dads: Shattering the Myths
Authors: Sanford L. Braver, Diane O'Connell (Contributor)
J. P. Tarcher, 1998
Hardcover, 288 pages Special Price: $17.47 U.S.
ISBN: 0-874-77862-X

by Roger F. Gay

Divorced Dads: Shattering the Myths is a book that should never have been written that everyone should read. Myth has guided domestic relations and welfare reform in the United States and elsewhere. That should never have happened. This book, which shatters some of the most prominent myths is an absolute "must read" for anyone with an interest in family law and welfare research and policy - which I conclude is just about everyone.

Divorced Dads: Shattering the Myths, first published in 1998, presents a compilation of research on divorced fathers by Arizona State University psychology professor Sanford Braver. Braver's was the largest federally supported study of divorced fathers in history. Since then many reviews have been written but I have observed that the myths are not yet completely dead. It must be that not everyone who should read Sanford Braver's book has done so.

Take for example, recent testimony before a child support guideline review panel in Indiana. (If you would like to see the entire internet broadcast of the hearing through RealOne media player, click here.)

A school teacher testified that she is going through divorce and "not receiving child support." She has a presentation in lesson form for the judicial panel, just like she would in class she says. It was complete with play money as a prop. "Some of you have received three dollars ... and some of you have only received two. The persons who have received three dollars represent the non-custodial parent ... Now the two dollars that the mother would have represents not only her income but also what is given to you for child support. That's all the money that you have. ... Your main expenses are food, clothing, and shelter and that does not include child care costs and those can be very great."

No wonder some people say that we need standardized school materials. The school teacher is teaching a myth. Some studies claim that women as a group make only two thirds as much as men. But that does not include child support (child care costs are typically added to basic child support), alimony, property division, tax benefits nor any other financial arrangements specifically related to divorce. Following divorce, women as a group are financially better off than men. Some women, especially those who remarry are far better off than the husbands and fathers they left behind.

One more time. Six major myths fell to actual research.

  1. Deadbeat dads: Divorced fathers pay 90 percent of the child support they have been ordered to pay. Fully employed divorced fathers pay all that is due. In addition, they pay visitation expenses. [Depending on the extent of the research providing the result, fathers (all fathers including never married) pay 70-80 percent of what they have been ordered to pay. The low end  70 percent  relies on recipient surveys that do not account for money that is paid but withheld as repayment for welfare, and possible bias. In all cases, the primary cause of non-payment is that the person ordered to pay is unable to pay.]

  2. The No-Show Dad: The rate of contact between fathers and their children following divorce shows "paternal devotion and tenacity [that] is entirely at odds with the more popular image of the runaways, absentee, or disappearing dad."

  3. Standards of Living: Women with children are, as a group, better off financially following divorce than men. That's right, it's not the other way around.

  4. Terms of Divorce: Far from being docile, easily manipulated victims of a male dominated divorce system, women have always fared well in negotiations and settlements. Men are far more likely to be the biggest losers in the process.

  5. Emotional Issues of Divorce: Women are happier after divorce than men. Given the results related to the other myths, this is likely to cause the least surprise. They have the children, they are better off financially, they drive better cars, their situation is less likely to interfere with new relationships and remarriage ....

  6. Who leaves the marriage ... and why it matters: " ... women initiate the preponderance (63 - 75%) of modern divorces ..." It matters because it vindicates the finding that men do less well then women after divorce, because the blame heaped on men for divorce should be addressed, and because the myth serves to further unlevel the playing field of domestic relations law and politics on which fathers are already disadvantaged.

Other reviews of Divorced Dads: Shattering the Myths were written by;
Copyright 2002 Roger F. Gay

Roger F. Gay is a professional analyst and director of Project for the Improvement of Child Support Litigation Technology.
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