As we’ve stumbled our way to the post marriage family one of the conversations we’ve never seriously engaged at a cultural level is the evil of child support and alimony. That these things are evil should be manifest in the fact that they are the answer to the question:
How shall we organize the family without marriage?
In fairness those who detest marriage would argue that replacing marriage is a fundamentally good thing, and that therefore anything which destroys marriage is not only not evil, but good. However, even the most marriage hating radical feminist would still have to recognize that child support and alimony are the answer to the question of how to replace marriage.
For those who believe in marriage the only legitimate question is not whether child support and alimony are evil, but whether (and how often) they might at times be a necessary evil. In the not too distant past the consensus in the Christian West was that only in very rare and extreme circumstances were child support and alimony necessary evils. Husbands who abandoned their families or who were seriously abusive or serial adulterers were the kinds of extreme corner cases where the necessity of replacing marriage outweighed the evil of replacing marriage.
But either way, make no mistake; destroying families is evil, and replacing marriage is evil. Marriage is sacred, and anyone who is not a foe of marriage should approach its destruction/replacement with great trepidation. This is a grave matter, and should be treated as such. Even in the cases where the husband is acting terribly we should be extremely hesitant to step in and destroy a family, or to do anything to facilitate the destruction of that family. There is no neat and clean way to break up a family. Breaking up families isn’t like neatly amputating an offending limb; it is more like remodeling with dynamite. Honoring marriage vows can at times be very difficult, and having a rescue crew waiting in the wings to declare the marriage “over” and offer an alternative creates huge temptation for sin and the great harm to children which follows the destruction of the family.
Until around the mid 60s we treated alimony and child support as necessary evils. Women who had children out of wedlock were strongly encouraged to marry (and remain married to) the father of their child because the bastardy laws carried a strong stigma. Men or women who married and then decided honoring their marriage vows was too hard had to prove in divorce court that their case was one of the rare exceptions where destroying the family was a necessary evil. This kept divorce rare and made it clear that if such extreme measures were justified either the husband or the wife must have acted so terribly that destroying the family was the only viable option.
From necessary evil to moral imperative.
But then starting in the late sixties we reorganized our legal and social structure with the (unquestioned) assumption that replacing marriage wasn’t a necessary evil, but a moral imperative. We replaced a patchwork of bastardy laws with a declaration that legitimacy doesn’t matter. Around the same time, we ushered in no fault divorce with very strong bias towards mother custody, while leaving in place the punitive practices of child support and alimony. Suddenly child support and alimony went from necessary evil to an open bribe available to any woman who was willing to betray her husband and children.
Now we not only promise a woman cash and prizes if she will agree to betray her family, but we have created a presumption of guilt on the part of the very husband she sells out. As Lydia McGrew explains here it is misogyny to not assume that our pandemic of wife initiated divorce is proof that the men must have had it coming.
This assumption that the sin of divorce must be justified is combining with the lure of the financial reward to sin and snaring very large numbers of women. Where Christians should be defending marriage and discouraging sin, most are enthusiastic supporters of child support and stand forever ready to offer justifications for women to divorce their husbands, however flimsy. However, remaining silent about the evil of child support and alimony and encouraging frivolous divorce is not kind to women and children; it is cruelty. Yet where are the Christian leaders warning against the great temptation that child support and alimony present to women?
In our current rush to find some fault, any fault, by the husband to justify the divorcing wife we aren’t being honest that the standing offer of a cash reward for ending her marriage can’t help but cloud her judgment. Any Christian treatment of the subject should start by pointing out that in either every case or nearly every case a wife divorcing her husband is sinning gravely. Even in the case where the husband is divorcing the wife, the fact that she knows she will get a cash reward if he decides to divorce her is a huge temptation for her not to honor the Bible’s instruction to wives. From this perspective her husband’s bad behavior and the lure of financial reward are the sources of temptations to grave sin, not moral justifications to sin. In a more clear headed time this is what Christians would warn women who were considering destroying their families or even rejecting their obligations as wives. However, we don’t live in clear headed times, and even the supposed champions of the family Focus on the Family are now so vulgar as to openly teach women how to collect their 30 pieces of silver.