Child support, when used in a legal context, refers to payments made by one parent to help the other parent pay for the expenses incurred in raising their children. This system has been criticized, often by men's rights advocates, for sometimes placing a heavier burden than can be afforded by the paying parent, who is often the father. At the same time, women's advocates often complain at the ease with which non-custodial parents can evade their responsibilities if they so desire. Both are correct, albeit for different reasons.
When a child has two living, unmarried parents, custody may be ceded by one parent or awarded by the court, or may be shared. At that time or later, either parent may agree or be ordered to pay child support. Though a parent may choose to opt out of the actual child-rearing, they are generally considered to be obligated to at least chip in financially.
A so-called "deadbeat" parent (often a non-custodial dad) will often
"forget" to fail to send payments. Only 42% of mothers receiving child support get all that they owe (and 34% of fathers). The law is usually on the custodial parent's side, and deadbeats can even be put in jail regardless of whether or not they can actually afford to make the payments, but collecting can be such a hassle that some just don't bother.
Over 70% of child support debts are from people who earn less than $10,000 in income or don't report any; as they can't make the payments, the debt will just pile up, which means the parent who has the duty to pay has even less of a chance to pay and the families who need it even less of a chance to receive it.
Furthermore, in some states failure to pay child support is considered contempt of court, and as a felony charge this can cause the parent to go to prison — a situation that many critics have compared to the debtor's prisons of old. Even after release, the presence of a felony charge frequently causes difficulty gaining employment, further limiting any ability the parent might have to pay the debts.
Some allege gender bias, and they may not be wrong. More saliently, a woman is given the opportunity to abort or adopt. If she chooses to raise the child, the father is expected to subsidize her life choice for 18 years. Conversely, the woman may want to put the baby up for adoption, but the man wants to be a dad and assumes custody. Now she's on the hook for 18 years. Either way, one person can make a unilateral decision, and the other pays for it. For both men and women, this is hardly a fair outcome by any definition.
Some feminists dislike this state of affairs; Karen DeCrow, one-time president of the National Organization for Women, has argued that that fathers should have the chance to opt out, saying "[A]utonomous women making independent decisions about their lives should not expect men to finance their choice."
Due to technicalities in child support guidelines, men can be required to pay child support if their sperm was taken without their knowledge or consent, such as if a woman punctured a condom or if she stole his DNA and impregnated herself. In fact, men or even boys who are the victims of female on male rape can legally be ordered to pay child support to their rapists. The fact that the child in question was conceived via a forced sexual encounter is irrelevant, as is the possibility that the father may be a minor.