“I know all about using condoms,” says Joey from Jersey. He’s 18, and that’s what he thinks he needs to know about sex. I can’t fault him — it’s no worse than most of my clients. I’m a divorce and child custody lawyer. The problem is that at 18, he’s a man, and he needs to know a lot more about what having a child means, both for his future, and for the future of any child he fathers.
We were in the Jacuzzi at the Loews Hotel, surrounded by nubile girls, and Joey was on high alert for any female that he could conquer. He was looking past me as we exchanged the meaningless banter that people who don’t know each other exchange. He had just graduated high school and was taking a year off to travel before college.
Seeing him all amped up about girls got me thinking about what they teach in high school about sex and family planning, and the carnage I see on a regular basis in my practice. I asked him if anyone had ever explained to him what really happens when two people have a child. Not the fairytale ending of living happily ever after, but the more likely scenario of being a co-parent with someone that you barely know and don’t have much in common with.
“No, not really. I have an idea because my parents were divorced,” he said.
And that’s when it hit me: we need to tell young men — boys really — what co-parenting is really like. The focus has been on the girls and those robodolls that used to teach kids the rigors of parenting. But there’s another side they need to know about. The boys’ side. The side that is expected to pay for those “accidental” children.
Eighteen years of child support that will cripple your future if you fall behind; and not being allowed to have full access to your kid takes an emotional toll. It’s the side of the prevention/abstinence argument that is not spoken about. The hard realities of what it will do to the boys. I get to see the wreckage that happens, to both sides. Mom is trying to raise a child without enough resources, and dad is ill-equipped to better his life, or that of his child, because he’s laboring under a child support award that takes his driver’s license from him if he falls behind in payments.
If we want to make better men, we need to arm them with the reality of the consequences of their actions. I see men every week who have no idea what’s expected of them as fathers — financially or emotionally.
Most of my clients think they’re going to get 50 percent custody and have a major role in raising their children. Unfortunately, that’s a pipe dream. Legally, they’re going to have to pay about 25 percent of their income per child, and if they get the standard “dad package,” they’ll see their kids every other weekend, and have a Wednesday dinner. It doesn’t really matter how much they want it to be different; that’s what courts order.
If we told young men that they’ll be giving about 25 percent of their gross paycheck for child support, they might think twice about prevention. If we told them that with a minimum wage job of $10 an hour, they will spend $430 a month in child support, it might wake them up. If we explained that 18 years of child support would cost them $92,000 — about the equivalent of the young man’s college education — they might begin to understand that having a child when you’re unprepared can mean the difference between a great future and a dead-end future.
When a baby is born, if the couple doesn’t live together, dad can expect to see his child between four and eight hours a week, or four percent of the time, if the court makes orders.
How much parenting can you do with four hours a week?
Over the course of the next few years, it will increase to about 20 percent of the week.
The problem is that so many young men are growing up with absent fathers, which creates a desire in them to be a father themselves; but the reality is that the legal system will likely force them to be just another absent father.
We need to educate these young men and give them the tools they need to make the right decisions in life. If not, we are just preparing them for failure.
David Pisarra is a divorce attorney who specializes in Father’s Rights and Men’s Issues with the firm of Pisarra & Grist in Santa Monica. He is the author of the upcoming, “A Man’s Guide To Child Custody.” You can pre-order the book by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or (310) 664-9969.