At the time one’s divorce is imminent, often two main concerns are obviously going to be child support and child custody.
It is reasonable to conclude that in many cases, the fights over child support are not rooted in making sure that the children’s needs are well taken care of. It’s rooted in maximizing the household income of the mother via “child” support. Given the work that we have done with people involved in high-conflict divorces – those divorces yield this to be a very common theme. In these cases, child support is more than that – it’s alimony or spousal support, too, simply disguised as child support.
It’s important to understand that individual states get kickbacks in the form of reimbursement dollars for child support money collected. While it would take entirely too much time to delve into this specific issue in great detail within this article – it suffices to say that when people’s livelihoods depend on collecting lots of child support via collections and enforcement measures, that federal reimbursement money is a primary driving factor. In order for this system to grow and expand, the system must drive as many families into it as it can and make sure that child support figures are set as high as possible to maximize this federal money given to the states. Social Security’s Title IV-d, originally intended to lighten the tax burden and costs associated with divorced families using various assistance programs ultimately found that by driving every possible family into the system, the money flow would be substantial. This is why we have the gargantuan system we have today. Title IV-d has been leveraged as an income generation source for individual states.
Almost every state’s guidelines are established via research on “consumer spending surveys.” Read that again. Consumer spending surveys don’t take into account the basic needs of the children. It takes into account the overspending that our society typically does. It is a fact that the lion’s share of household discretionary funds are controlled by mothers. It is also a fact that the lion’s share of child custody is awarded to mothers. Combine these two realities and it’s a recipe for overinflated child support orders that are predicated on keeping the children in a “style to which they had become accustomed” when the family was intact. Of course, this is impossible because it fails to take into account that there are now two households that need to be supported by all of the basic expenses that come with them.
When I sometimes debate and discuss these issues, particularly with divorced mothers, the complaints and justifications are common:
- The amount of child support I get doesn’t even cover the essentials!
While I can rarely substantiate such a claim on an case-by-case basis, the realities are simple… more often that not, child support receiving mothers rather often roll into their figures expenses that are not truly part of their day-to-day equation. They typically toss out:
- Their entire rent or mortgage figure.
In all but the fewest cases, the places in which we live weren’t purchases solely for the addition of children. In my own case, I owned a three-bedroom house before I had ever even considered children. Therefore, I could justifiably argue that the addition of children had zero impact on my housing costs – or hers. One could counter that without children, she could downsize to a 1-bedroom home or apartment. While a legitimate argument, I can tell you that in a majority of cases, people who can afford something bigger and more comfortable – buy something bigger and more comfortable. But let’s be reasonable and presume the difference between a 1-bedroom and a 2-bedroom apartment, for the sake of round figures, would be about $200.
- It costs me $400/month in food, and dad needs to pay for that!
Reality is, your entire food bill for the month isn’t subject to being paid for by the father of the children.
- What about the increase in water, heat, power, light? That costs me about $300/month!
Again, the actual impact that the children have on that figure is negligible. The house would still primarily have to be heated, powered, lighted, and water consumption would be hardly different enough to justify a significant financial difference that again, would require dad to pay a huge portion of that bill.
This list could get long with clothing, extracurricular activities, and a host of other things. Of course, there exist many other aberrations like children with special needs and other deviations from that which we understand to be “normal.”
What’s so often overlooked in situations such as mine, which represents quite a lot of what we consider to be “the middle class” is that all of those things are needed at dad’s house, too. And before you go ranting about how all of those things are “factored in” when the guidelines are created – it’s simply not true. What dad has to pay for is rarely ever a concern for a high-conflict mother. In their zeal to obtain more and more from the “deadbeat” dad, they fail to understand that they are taking resources from the children’s other parent – resources needed at his household for food, clothing, heat, power, light, rent, etc. Yes, even in an unbalanced custodial arrangement.
Few people realize that in most states and even surrounding countries – your normal daily expenses are not even considered when factoring child support. The rules are clear… he makes this much money, she makes this much money, combine them – give the money to her and how you live is none of their concern. Then, they use a formula to determine how much it costs to raise a child per year, it’s astounding, and it’s based on flawed data.
Now, factor in that the laws also have determined through some never named or cited research, that when you are divorced, suddenly if you get a raise, make more money, get a second job – the costs for the basic needs of the children go up – and your support figure goes up accordingly! I’m pretty sure that I’m not alone in wondering where and how that rationale came to pass, because I can tell you this, if and when I received my annual raise – the children didn’t suddenly need more food, more clothes, more shelter, more utilities, etc. etc. etc. However, once you’re in the divorce machine – the laws and computations say that’s what happens. Who suffers? The person who pays the price is usually the non-custodial parent – in the overwhelming majority of the cases – the father. There is no accountability for how child support payments are spent.
Let’s not just blame custodial mothers though, I mean, who wouldn’t want more money for nothing, right? The system allows it and the only person who loses money is… guess who? The father. Mom can file for a support modification whenever she wants. You have to produce your financials. Who gets paid? Conference officers. Judges. Lawyers. Mother. Court Clerks. Transcribers. Court Reporters. Secretaries. The State Fund. Who is paying? The non-custodial parent. It’s state and federal sanctioned theft hidden behind “the best interests of the children.”
I leave you with these final thoughts. Another common rant of child support receiving mothers is this:
He’s only fighting for more child custody so he has to pay less child support!
This notion is absurd on two fronts.
- If the child support he’s paying you now isn’t enough to cover the basic expenses as is so often argued, then your claim makes no sense as having more child custody will be more costly to him than simply paying his court-ordered child support.
- You can’t argue that he is trying for more child custody to reduce child support without also saying (without saying actually saying it) that you’re fighting against his having more child custody to maximize child support.
Try as you so often might – you can’t have your cake and eat it, too. Actually, you can. Family court allows it every single day. That doesn’t make the above two points entirely too true for many people to accept.
Leave a comment with your thoughts.
For more information see: Shared Parenting vs. Child Support
If I have said this once I have said it one thousand times. If the family court Judges would offer custody to which ever parent would love, nuture, and care for the children guided by a moral standard,,,”without” child support–my guess is mostly Fathers would step up to the plate “hands down”.
I would like to see a full blown doc. on our family court system.
We are raising several children in our home, his, mine and ours. It does NOT cost hundreds of $$ per month to raise them. We live within our means.
There is a chlid support order in place for pennies on the dollar compaired to what the father has paid in the past. We have not seen a cent for months.
If the shoe was on the other foot, my husband would be in hot water.
Thoughtful and refreshing point of view, presented in a non-hostile format. My husband has joint custody of his kids. As the non-custodial parent, he always pays his support on time, buys 99 % of the kids clothing, sports equipment, computers and school things for them to use. Unfortunately, my husband’s ex has been charged (and found guilty by a judge) for withholding the kids on a number of occasions. In all cases, he ended up paying for all legal fees. While I support that all parents need to contribute to the financial upbringing of their children, it frustrates me to no end that if my was husband was late on child support, the enforcement people would certainly come after him, yet a custodial parent can willfuly ignore visitation and unless the non-custodial parent has the financial resources to hire a good lawyer, the state will do nothing. We have had to cash in savings (earmarked for the kid’s college) to pay for lawyers. A second issue that has recently come up is the state’s refusal to modify support due to exceptional travel costs my husband must incur to see his children. A couple of years ago he was transferred to Seattle, with both kids (teenagers) still in Texas. Not his choice, but a financial reality. Despite the need to now spend at least 15,000 – 20,000 in travel (airline tickets for kids to fly up at xmas, spring break, summer) and my husband to fly down, rent a car, stay at a hotel a few times a year to at least catch some of their sports events during the school year, the court has made no modifications in child support. (Does the court feel a better option would have been to refuse the move, be unemployed and not able to pay any child support?) My point is not to “rant” but to merely point out, as you have in your article about child support, that there are great inequities in how non-custodial parents are treated by the courts. In is unfortunate and unfair.
I really enjoyed reading this article. The only problem I have is that this can happen to women, too. A man is just as capable of abusing the system as a woman is if he is so inclined.
I was married for 15 years, and had four children. My ex was emotionally abusive, but I was told by my lawyer that bringing it up in court would only hurt me, so I didn’t. He took my children, and now is using the system to beat me over the head for child support that I cannot afford, even being remarried. He also had the judge put it in our divorce decree that if I wanted to see the children, I had to have a 3 bedroom apartment or larger, in addition to paying my child support, which he has made clear that it’s not the money he wants, but rather to sever my relationship with my children and to see me in jail. He’s a real gem.
The thing is, child support needs to cease to be a reward for gaining custody of the children, and instead only be assessed if it is needed by the custodial parent, and the non-custodial parent can afford it without going homeless themselves.
I apologize if my message seems a bit garbled and not as well thought out as I would like. I’m going to court, yet again for my child support debt, trying to keep a 3 bedroom home, and my ex still won’t let me see my children without first “inspecting” my home, which makes me feel violated. The judge in the case is not nice either. Last time I was in court, I was accused of “starving” my children to death, even though I was a stay at home mother and he is taking care of them now on more than what he made before.