man gets raped by a woman woman rapes a man; the woman gets pregnant and raises the child. Should the father be forced to pay child support? Danny says no; Clarissa says yes. (The question was brought up by this article about a child support case.)
Child support, however, is not about either parent or the process of how they ended up being parents. It’s about ensuring that a child – a separate human being who never asked to be brought into this world and who in no way influenced the circumstances of his or her conception – has adequate means of support. It is the role of the justice system to defend the person who is the weakest and who cannot even speak for him or herself, namely, the child. A justice system that prefers to deprive a child from adequate means of existence in order to avoid being unfair towards an adult is no justice system at all.
The fact that a person was created during the commission of a crime in no way reduces that person’s need for food, clothing, medical care, and education. Imagine baby Anna and baby Jessica. Anna is a product of a passionate loving consensual sex act. Jessica is the product of rape (whether by a man or by a woman). Is Jessica going to eat less? Will she be less deserving of visiting a dentist? Should she have fewer toys than Anna? Can anybody reasonably argue that one of these kids should be punished because she has a criminal for a parent?
As a general principal, I agree with Clarissa. Child support is for the benefit of the child. Certainly, I find men who argue that men should have the “choice” of a “paper abortion” ludicrous; a man’s need to not have to spend money supporting his children doesn’t outweigh a child’s need for support.
But it’s also true that child support is not an absolute.
For instance, if Charlie and Lucy adopt a child together, but are then too poor to support the child, we don’t expect the child’s biological parents to pay child support. In this case, the need for a clear adoption system — in which legal parenthood is definitively passed on to the adoptive parents — outweighs the need for the child to be supported by its biological parents. A similar logic explains why egg donors and sperm donors are not typically held responsible for child support.
Similarly, the need to avoid unjustly punishing rape victims for being raped, should outweigh the need to have two parents financially supporting every child.
But what about baby Jessica’s “need for food, clothing, medical care, and education”? I think the solution is to lobby for the state to step in and provide these things at a generous level — not to make things worse for rape victims.
A few more thoughts:
1) In the case that set off this discussion, there was never a trial for rape, let alone a guilty verdict. In a case like that, I don’t think the father (or mother) should have their child support obligation removed. I don’t know what level of proof should be required for a rape victim to legally be excused from child support, but clearly some sort of proof should be required.
2) In my ideal society, there would be generous government support available for all custodial parents, so we wouldn’t have to worry about children being left in poverty unless child support laws are broadly enforced. Although sometimes they’re better than nothing, child support laws will never adequate as a solution to child poverty.
3) The author of the Tampa Bay Times article writes:
Around the country there are plenty of cases of underage boys who got a woman pregnant and then tried to avoid paying child support. The 15-year-old in California who was seduced by the 34-year-old mom next door. The 13-year-old boy in Kansas who had sex with his 17-year-old babysitter. The 15-year-old boy in Florida who impregnated a 20-year-old.
Under a strict interpretation of the law, these boys, by virtue of their age, were raped. But family courts have seen these incidents for what they were: consensual sexual encounters. And as a result, they have ordered the boys to pay child support.
I disagree. If the sex is legally statutory rape, then we shouldn’t legally force the rape victim to pay child support. This is another case where we should expect the state, not the rape victim father, to step in.
(Of course, if the father in those cases wants to voluntarily take custody, that would be a different thing altogether.)