I interviewed men in Australia who had separated from their female partner because the men had used domestic violence and/or coercive control against the women.
Given the acrimonious situation, some of the fathers were ordered by the Australian Government to provide financial payments via a government agency, rather than making the payments directly to the mother.
The aim in these situations is to ensure the financial assistance definitely reaches the mother.
Max was one of the men I interviewed. He had been in jail for breaching his Domestic Violence Order (DVO). Max was paying child maintenance to the Child Support Agency, but he had a great deal of anger about losing his power and control over his finances.
Max said, “Yeah, my ex makes it very hard for me to see my daughter, yeah a lot of hate there I spose, so she takes it out, uses it, I don’t know why she makes that, takes my daughter from me.
Most of the men I interviewed felt a loss of status, and had major indignation over their change of circumstances, and seemed reluctant to face the truth of the harm they had done to their children and partner.
Yet I noticed that the men seemed to know a great deal of specific details about their financial state and loss of status relating to finances, which is in stark contrast to what Max said here.
“There’s a lot of arguments, this money status, because we have two children where her ex doesn’t pay child maintenance, and I pay child maintenance. That’s 18 percent of your gross wage, then you get taxed as well, that’s another, say, 20 percent if you’re casual so that’s nearly 40% of your gross wage, and you go to work and you’re really left with not much. And sometimes it’s been stressful because, you know what I mean, your government takes a health care card. Then you got pressures at home, you’re working long hours and you come home, you’re tired and crabby, you look at your pay, oh I got no money this fucking week, it’s all going out on these bills, and it stresses me out.”
I noticed that the men generally would neglect the fact that any family bills would have been going out for the children if the parents stayed together. This yet again demonstrates these men’s focus on their own sense of entitlement.
I asked Max for his views about how men who have been mandated to pay child maintenance through the child support agency, react to having the agency as part of their life.
Max said, “They are a pain. They are heartless, annoying people, not the people that ring up, but the whole system of child maintenance. I’ve dealt with them for 13 years. I’ve dealt with the Australian Taxation Office and they are fine to deal with. I’ve dealt with Centrelink, fine to deal with. When it comes to Child Support Agency, they are ruthless. They don’t understand a thing that you’re saying over the phone. Just a number, just a frigging number. They should change their name from Child Support to Child Collection.”
Max’s comment again shows a lack of consideration of the children’s wellbeing, but rather focuses again on the man’s need to be top dog.
Max went on to say, “They’re a collection agency. They don’t support children, they’re collecting wages from people taking it out of their bank accounts without even telling them. Which is legal robbery by the sound of things, it’s like theft.”
So, I asked Max what would have to change for these men instead?
In response Max said, “I don’t mind paying child support, but I have two children from a previous and they say the father hasn’t paid enough for eight years, you don’t take that into account.”
Max believed that working overtime was ‘his’ time.
He continued . . . “That’s why it’s called overtime. Take child support on a gross wage, on a weekly 38 hour week, fine, not an argument. Overtime? Why do men do overtime? Have to do overtime to make up for child support payments getting taken out. What happens when you do overtime? What about my life, my new life that I’m starting? So I have to do more hours at work, do 10, 12 hour day at work, come home, do you think I’d be tired? Of course I’d be tired, and I’ve gotta run a relationship.”
Max continued further, “What they’ve created is a system, and what’s going to happen, is if they keep every parent out there, mother and father working, the children are gonna be forgotten. You’re gonna have child maintenance payments going here, this has gotta be paid for there, you’re gonna have a break down in relationships divorce rate will rise phenomenal. Because you got no, you don’t HAVE a relationship. You’ve got a relationship with work, to pay the child support. It’s, for a single bloke with one child, it’s 18 percent of his GROSS wage, they take it out of his GROSS wage. Now hang on, that’s wrong. I don’t get to take home my GROSS wage. I get to take home my net wage. It should be taken out of his net.”
“Secondly, 18 percent and then 20 percent, work the figures out. It’s a lot of money. Now if I’m paying 100 dollars, or $70 a week for one child, so I gotta give me child that’s at home with me $70 as well, they say to me on the phone, if your child was wearing Adidas shoes when you left. Hang on, wow we’re separated, she had the right, she took the child. Do you want me to take her to court and battle, drag the kid through court to battle for custody? It’s crazy, Child Support is crazy. I can’t reason with them. They take money out of a man’s account which is a proven fact on the internet, they took nine grand out of his account. When they calculated and worked it out, it was only three grand he owed. ‘Oh excuse me, you’ve taken the wrong amount, can I have back what you’ve taken out of my account?’
“They say to him, and it’s on the internet, it’s on the dad’s support group, “Sorry, we’ve already given it to your spouse, we can’t refund”. Now, far as I know in the law, that’s like theft. And if I went out to somewhere and stole five thousand dollars off a company, or wages was overpaid to me, I’d be expected to pay that back. They have a law of their own. I can’t understand their law, I don’t understand the legislations they’ve got in force. They charge a bloke, old mate’s in jail. It’s crazy. They lose money, they must lose money. Child Support Agency must lose money chasing up. They chase the stupidest things. If a man’s in jail you have a release date, well chase him then. Why would you chase money when he’s in jail? You don’t make much money in jail. The best job in jail is about $70 a week. How they chase things, it’s crazy.”
Max continued further: The legislation they brought in, like, they put stress on ya, they put stress, I can see why fathers commit suicide I really can coz it put stress on me. Child maintenance should be on a 38 hour week. A normal father going to work doing a 38 hour week. If he’s only casual he might only be doing 20 hours a week.”
I asked Max if he ended up paying for the children who live with him, the same, equal, more or less than the child he does not have living with him.
In response he said, “Well, if I was to go out and earn 90 thousand a year, I think I would be expected to pay 200 something dollars a week child maintenance. But when you work it out, like, the government pays, I just don’t understand how it works, the system’s a failure. They have lost money, I think they lose some figure of $5 to every dollar they collect.”
To help me understand his argument, I asked Max if the amount he paid for the child that did not live with him, was the same amount of money to the children that did live with him?
In response he said, “Well. No. Not at one stage there, no. I was sending them 103 dollars a week. They were saying that if I put 103 dollars a week in, the mother should put 103 dollars a week in, isn’t that correct? Why should I pay more than the mother, that’s being a bit over the top. So that child’s 200 dollars a week. A man on unemployment benefits gets 400 dollars a fortnight. He’s supposed to survive on that, and he’s supposed to survive on that.
I asked Max if he thought it was quite common to feel ripped off when fathers pay to Child Support Agency, compared to paying straight to the mother?
In answer to this he said, “I wouldn’t say ripped off, I just think the system is stuffed. Because, you’ve gotta pay presents for the child, you’ve gotta go see the child, then they say you’ve gotta spend so much a year before you’re reimbursed like $1500 or $1800 a year in travel expenses. Like when does the dollar stop? When is enough is enough? How much money do you really think this child’s worth? You’ve forgot one ingredient, you forgot love, where’s the love? Where’s the love for your father and the child? It’s not the mother’s right to have the child, it’s not the father’s right to have the child, it’s the child’s right to have both, to know both their parents. They just can’t go along and stick a value, because what has happened, my daughter up north, we have no relationship left. We are so distanced. She doesn’t call me, I don’t call, it’s crushed. And I do blame Child Support Agency for a lot of the thing. I’ve argued over the phone, she’s going, “They’ve taken money out of my family payment because the child support hasn’t come through”. I said, “I don’t know, you went through the agency!” They created friction. So I have no time for ’em. I’ve dealt with ’em for years and years and years. I’ve dealt with them, and the damage in the past has done no good, no good whatsoever, just want money, collect money.”
I noticed that the men I interviewed showed very little consideration about how the children felt, rather, Max, for example, strongly emphasised that external sources were the cause of the harm to the children.
I asked Max why he was paying through the Child Support Agency. I would have expected the answer to be that he had caused harm to his partner and or children, but he never acknowledged that throughout my interview with him.
Max emphasised that his ex-partner “went through the agency, she went through the agency, not me”, but he never revealed any insight about his own abusive behaviours that set off this chain of events.
So I asked Max, “What do you think men who are in denial know about the domestic violence law? When you were in denial, ‘Nah I’m not doing anything wrong’ what did you know about the domestic violence law or legislation?”
Max said, “I did not know much, I just knew that a DVO (Domestic Violence Order) was put on you and you can’t go round to your spouse’s place, if you get there the cops’ll get ya. You have to be on good behaviour, you can’t go off, you can’t damage property, you can’t, even if it’s yours. Even though it might be your recorder my recorder, I can’t get it and damage it, still a breach of DVO. That’s how I found it. I’m not against DVO’s, I believe yeah, they should be there coz I was violent. They should be there.
It’s interesting to note that this was the first time that Max admitted he was violent to his partner. Yet throughout the interview he spoke as if he was the victim.
I asked Max what was useful about having a DVO against him.
Max responded by saying, “Hopefully they’ll stop before you kill your partner.” So I asked, Do you think DVO’s help to make it stop? He said, “Some men yeah, some men no. Some men will kill their partner I think definitely. Oh some women can be violent too, but I think it’s more men in domestic situations. But hopefully because when I think back, the older I get you know, I shake me head and think, “Why is she with me, Christ”!
It was good to hear this admission from Max, because squeezing out the truth from these men was pretty difficult and we had to go through multiple convoluted labyrinths to eventually get to some truths.
I asked Max, “What is it about getting a DVO against him that encourages him to change?”
Max told me, “She’s the mother of my children, she’s the mother of OUR children. And, you know, I fell in love with her, I wasn’t like that when we first met you know. I used to like our conversations and talking and stuff. Like, the older you, for me, the older I get you start to mellow out, you start to look at life differently.”
It looked to me like Max had built up a massive amount of resentment since getting involved with the legal system and child support system. So I asked if this resentment had led to resisting making healthy changes.
I was making a guess that this might be true, so I checked with Max.
His response was, “Yeah, yeah, I can see why men just say, “Fuck Child Support, or fuck the system, fuckin’ they don’t care about me”. You can see a little bit of why they do it. I’ve come to, ‘well you can’t beat ’em.’
I’m not gonna beat Child Support no matter what they say. You know, like, I don’t get to see me daughter. She doesn’t write to me or anything. It’s destroyed. And with this system, and there’s nothing I can do, I’ve just gotta pay it just gotta accept, just gotta take it on the chin. And with the law, I can’t go out being violent. I can’t argue with me wife, I can’t do that, you know, because I’m gonna go to jail.
I asked Max if he thought “some men who might be resentful toward the system, do you think they might take it out on their partner, ‘She got me into this’?
He said, “Oh yeah, shit yeah, exactly, I really, really, do coz I’ve got that and so has the partner I’m with now, Child Support with my ex, coz she pushed an issue one time, and I mean, WE were arguing. And I said to her, “Would you please stop fucking arguing over fucking someone else”. We were arguing about her, there was nothing we could do about it. “Fucking Child Support they don’t give a shit, they don’t understand.” I said, “I know that, we know that”, you know what I mean. It puts pressure. I don’t mind paying Child Support, but when I’m starting to work overtime and they’re taking bigger and bigger lumps, it’s just, ‘What am I working for?’ I’ve gotta work on my own cars and bikes to keep ’em running coz I can’t afford.’
I asked Max the question, “You know the pride you have in being the provider? Does it still feel you’re being the main provider for the child that’s not living with you?” Max said, “No.” So I asked what was the difference?”
Max said “the difference is someone else is taking control of my finances. They’re presuming how much that child needs. I know for a fact my child up there, she owns a house, she owns a 45 thousand dollar four wheel drive, she’s never married, she’s been with different men and she’s taking them for a ride. I’m off focus, I’ve gone off myself now, but I mean she’s quite happy. If you were to look at the finances.”
The men frequently pointed out how they felt a loss of control over their partner and their finances.
I asked Max, “Is there a sense that some of the resentment comes, yes you’re providing money for your child, but does it also feel like for some men that they’re providing money for the woman?”
Max said, “Yeah. That’s exactly right! Thank you for that, because that’s a big, forgot about that comment. How do we know that money’s going for the child? We don’t and we never. It doesn’t.”
I responded asking, “So you feel it’s out of your control?”
Max agreed saying, “She could be drinking it, she could be, ‘Oh cool, child maintenance I’m buying a car.’ Of course they do it, you’d be blind.”
So I asked Max, “Is that the difference, you don’t feel like the main provider for your child?”
Max pointed out that there could be a remedy for these men taking back power and control. He said, “I’d rather send my child some clothes or a food voucher or a clothes voucher. I think they should change it from money going into accounts to a clothes voucher, where I know the child has got the money. I’m not there to support my ex. She’s taken her direction in life.”
I asked Max if, “these men knew 100 percent the money was going direct to the children, would it change his attitude, or the attitude of these men in general?”
Max said, “It would change it to a degree, that’s good that it’s going to the child. But I still disagree on child maintenance being taken on men’s overtime. Should be taken on a flat week, on a 38 hour week for a year and assessed on that. That’s how much he’s making. His overtime should not be brought into it, that’s why it’s called, overtime.”
To reiterate one of the main themes raised by Max, he emphasised “I’m not there to support my ex. She’s taken her direction in life.”
The reason I end this bog post with this statement from Max, is that in reality he had physically beaten the woman he supposedly loved, and he used and controlled her throughout their relationship, but he never acknowledges that it was his actions that sent her on a new direction of life.