I have a new German friend. Before your mind starts to wonder I have to tell you that this friend is a woman and I’m not a lesbian. My new friend moved into the apartment beneath me and we’ve been getting to know each other these last couple of days by having interesting conversations which included discussing the expectations of men and women in her country. Not surprisingly, the obligations of a man to his child have nothing to do with how he feels about the mother of his child and everything to do with his biological relationship to the human being his sperm helped to create. Perhaps American’s out to take a page out of the German book?
The conversation started with my telling my friend that I was a single Mom to a 6 year old little girl. We got on the topic of child support and after I told her that yes, I do receive child support, I asked how the child support system worked in Germany. Turns out that in Germany–and this is according to my friend–all men have an obligation to pay child support. “How else can the women be expected to pay for the child” she said with incredulity,”‘if the father is not ordered to pay support, whether the man and woman are together or not?” She also said that unmarried fathers have all of the same rights and responsibilities as unmarried fathers; legally, no distinction is made concerning whether or not the man is married to the mother of his child.
While I couldn’t find any specific information concerning child support laws by doing a quick Google search, I was able to confirm that she was right about the distinctions between unmarried and married fathers: there are no such distinctions. From “The Price of Shacking Up“:
Married men have a presumption of equal rights to their children, or joint “physical” custody, in the event of a breakup. No such right exists for a man living with a woman in any country, with the exception of Germany, which was ordered by their country’s Supreme Court to change their laws in September of 2010.
It’s safe to assume that unmarried fathers in Germany were considered equally responsible and equally entitled to their children long before the law was ordered to be changed in 2010 due to the fact that laws normally follow the will of the people; people feel that laws should codify the way that they believe society should be run. Kudos to Germany for realizing and understanding sooner than every other country that a man is obligated to his child, regardless of the relationship that he has with the child’s mother.
We’ve had these conversations about how men in certain European countries seem to take care of their children no matter what the courts say and stay with the mothers of their children longer than married partners here in the US. Unmarried parents in Sweden are, on average, more likely to stay together to raise their children until the age of 18 than married parents here in the US. What does a statistic like that say about the values that people in European countries hold dear? What does that statistic say about the level of personal responsibility and sense of obligation that men and women in Europe feel towards each other and to the children that they bear? More importantly, what does it say about us Americans, particularly black Americans, that we have such trouble staying together to raise our children?
Marriage–of the legally and spiritually binding type–is the safest way to raise children here in America. I think it’s about time for Americans to ask themselves what do we need to do to make our marriages more like the kinds of marriages that Europeans are experiencing–even if the ‘marriage’ that Europeans are partaking of is not one that involves standing before a judge and pledging ’till death do us part’. Clearly Europeans–and German’s in particular–know something we don’t know or have yet to acknowledge.