"I'm a separated father of two children. I'm facing a situation where I have new responsibilities as a single parent, and I want the right to be able to change my employment, in such a way to be a better parent. My fear is that because of the income level that I currently earn, if I were to become a math teacher, I would not be able to make support payments and consequently be a deadbeat dad, and I could go to jail," says Bill, who has joint custody of his children. "Time with them is even more precious than it has been in the past, and that's why teaching is the perfect opportunity. It would give a lot more free time for me with my children. I'd be closer to them and better able to meet their needs as a single parent."
Bill laments that he is not treated the same as a married father. "I am held hostage to my current level of income. It's like being an indentured servant," he says. "I will battle as long as it takes to be able to be the type of parent that I want to be."
Dr. Phil is joined by Bill, Mel Feit, the director of the National Center for Men, and Lis Wiehl, legal analyst and author of The 51 Percent Minority: How Women Still are Not Equal and What You Can Do about It.
"What's the dilemma here?" Dr. Phil asks Mel. "It seems like we all have to make choices."
"Let's be clear: if Bill were not getting divorced, he could take a job working fewer hours, making less money, being able to spend more time with his family. I think most people would say, â€˜Way to go, Bill,'" Mel says. "It's because he's getting divorced. The child support system now is so punitive it forbids him from ever taking a job with a lower income. And here's the thing, the system is so incredibly sexist, that it assumes that if a man wants to work fewer hours, he's got to have a sinister motive. The system cannot even comprehend that a man might want to spend more time with his children, or that his children would benefit from more time with their father."
Lis, who's been holding her tongue, chimes in addressing Bill. "You seem like such a nice guy, and you probably have all the right motives in the world, but I've got to tell you something, when you have a child, it's not about what you want. It's about what that child needs, and that child needs your money, now," she says.
"There are math teachers out there who are divorced and making child support payments," Bill says.
"Your children have been set at a certain level," Lis points out.
"You're saying he can never pursue other careers and make other choices, and if he were married, he would be allowed to do that," Mel says.
"If they were married, it would be a joint process. Together, they could decide together as a unit," Lis says.
"As long as they could support their child, it would be no one's business," Mel says.
"But we don't know that he can," Lis says.
"My kids have not been living a lifestyle commensurate with my current salary, because so much has been spent on lawyers," Bill interjects. "I think if you ask my children, they'd much rather spend time with me than have, what, a trip to Mexico."
"How much will the payment drop if you make this move?" Dr. Phil asks.
[AD]"Based on what I'm currently paying, it would probably be cut in half," Bill guesses.
"I don't think that they ever force a woman to take a job that she doesn't want to take," Mel says. "Only 36 percent of non-custodial moms have any child support award ordered against them ... We know as a society, you don't take a woman's children away from her and then tell her, â€˜Send a lot of money. Send it to the man who broke your heart.'"
"Ninety-nine percent of the time, it's the guy who leaves, and it's the woman who has to go after the guy," Lis says.
"It's absolutely not," Mel retorts.
The Dr. Phil show asked Bill's wife to appear on the show, but she declined. She said to the producer: "He does not want to pay child support despite making a six-figure salary. Did he tell you that he expects me to earn a six-figure salary, because he thinks that is my earning potential? That is ridiculous! I didn't work the entire time we were married, and we lived off of his income. He is basing this off my education level. I have several degrees but have only had one job before we had children, and that was right out of college, so I was earning about $35,000 a year. He thinks my potential is a six-figure salary as well."
"The ultimate issue is will the children be provided for?" Dr. Phil says.
"My children can be provided for on a math teacher's salary," Bill says.
[AD]"I think that when a man loses everything in a divorce, he loses everything that matters to him: his home, his family, his children. He's vulnerable, he's depressed, he's sad, lonely, he's confused. Maybe that's exactly the right time for him to take a less demanding job," Mel says.
"You're talking about all the things the man has lost," Lis says. "The woman is left with the house. The house is a dead asset. She can't sell that. She has to pay the rent or the mortgage on that. She's got to then pay for the children."
"Despite decades of changes of how we see women and women's choices, we still judge men and evaluate men by money. It's all about money, and this is what this case shows," Mel says.