While prevailing opinion (with some exceptions) may be that when an equal parenting arrangement has been created via a child custody order or agreement between parents – each parent should be responsible for the financial responsibilities of the children in their own home. No money in the form of court ordered child support should change hands. Unfortunately, that’s not real life in all but the fewest circumstances.
Many circumstances are considered when child support orders are created. Many significant financial matters are rolled into the equation and they may include all or some of the following:
- Income of each parent (for certain)
- Residential time the children spend with each parent
- Income tax deductions
- Insurances (health, dental, life)
- Extra childcare costs
- Other expenses as appropriate
The methodology can vary quite significantly from state-to-state, so it’s important that you review your state’s child support statutes for specifics. In “flat-rate” states, even in a 50/50 child custody arrangement, one parent is designated the residential or primary custodial parent for child support purposes and the other parent is paying a percentage of their income in accordance with the law regardless. In income-sharing states, well, formulae vary, too.
We’ll focus on income-shares model states for the purposes of this article.
While the stated intent of child support is to provide for the children the benefit of the same lifestyle to which they were accustomed when the family was intact makes little sense, that’s the “philosophy” of those who wrote the statutes. Unfortunately, the reality is that one household has now become two and that alone means that the children will not enjoy the same lifestyle as before the family break-up without both parents managing to obtain substantial increases in income.
The bottom line is that the income-shares model is simply a redistribution of wealth from the higher earning parent to the lower earning parent. Nothing demonstrates this reality more than the child support which is ordered in an equal parenting or 50/50 custody arrangement in income-shares model states.
For the purposes of the forthcoming example, let’s presume that it is only fair that necessary extraneous expenses, such as costs for childcare, healthcare, etc. be split in proportion to the income of each party. When we remove that reality from the actual calculation, we eliminate some measure of confusion and leave only the income of the parents. Further, for the purposes of easy math, we’ll use round figures and two gainfully employed parents sharing custody equally (forgetting about necessary deductions for taxes and such).
Parent A makes a net income of $60,000/year
Parent B makes a net income of $40,000/year
In an shared parenting arrangement, equal custody, 50/50 custody, the income-shares model states seek to “equalize the income between the two households.” Extra expenses are not truly a factor. Parenting time is equal. Both have and maintain households and can make ends meet in their respective households. They put a roof over their children’s heads. They clothe them. They feed them. They are both equally taking care of meeting or exceeding all of the needs of their children.
Despite all of these realities, in income-shares model states, $10,000 in “child support” will be ordered be paid from Parent A to Parent B absent an agreement between the two parties (if even then). The purpose is to equalize the income and make both households have an income of $50,000 each.
It may not be “fair.” It may not be necessary. In the above example, child support will be ordered and it’s clear that it has absolutely nothing with supporting the children. It’s the law in those states using the income-shares model. This, of course, is detailed with the realization that there may be exceptions for individual circumstances where a 50/50 custody arrangement is in place and one parent is unable to work or has been laid off and assistance is required. Those situations are understood. However, many situations are similar to the one example above. Both parents are working. Both parents make a good wage. Both parents can take care of the children quite well with their respective 50% child custody. However, if the lower earning parent wants to petition the court for extra money in the form of child support, they can do it and they will get it according to the child support formula in their state.