Is your child support really “wife support?”

Let’s be honest right now.  How many times have you met a father who went through a divorce and wound up with the short end of the stick? He’s paying out the wazoo in monthly child support just so his ex-wife can “shop, dine & entertain” as if there has been no change in her financial status.  Your male friends and acquaintances tell you just how their money is being spent on a “lifestyle” rather than the children’s expenses such as their extra extracurricular activities, clothes, medical expenses, and much more.

We’ve heard it time and time again from men who have gone through a divorce.  He warns his friends, family, and co-workers of the repercussions, which is having to pay an exorbitant amount of child support each month only to learn his ex is going on vacations (without the kids); buying new furniture; having cosmetic surgery. You can see where I’m going with this, right? I don’t think the court-ordered these payments to be spent on one parent’s self.  

This can be very frustrating to the men when seeing this. Unfortunately, it’s too difficult for the courts to police where every dollar of child support goes which is why courts will not get involved in dictating that each dollar of child support must go to specific expenses. Our system calculates child support on a percentage of the other parent’s income.  Is this fair?  Think about this:  The average cost to raise a child from birth to age 18 in the U.S. is $255,000. This translates to approximately $15,000. Per year, $1,180.00 per month. 

It is clear, that beyond a certain direct cost of rearing a child, support oftentimes becomes bonus money for the custodial parent.  A few months ago, I watched two clients of mine and their cases unfold in court with the same custody percentages, both having one child.  One father was ordered to pay $500.00 per month while the other was ordered to pay $2,000.00 per month.  Does one child cost 4x the amount to raise over the other? Therefore, a percentage of parent’s income as the determining factor, I believe is unfair.  When you take 30-40% of anyone’s income away of course it is no wonder you will have fathers having trouble meeting that type of support order (I say fathers because we all know they are the ones who usually get hit with support obligations). 

There is a huge incentive for one party to get more custody than the other, as their income rises since the custodial parent’s entitlement increases. If you have close to fifty percent number of overnights in your timesharing schedule, a reduction in your obligation will most likely occur.  Having this would not only be in your favor for child support purposes but more importantly in the child’s best interest.

In the movie DivorceCorp, they look at Scandinavian practices and we learn that the support incentive is all but removed.  There may be a small exchange of support ordered for non 50/50 custody arrangements, but nothing even close to the ridiculously skewed support that is ordered for earners here in the United States. As depicted in the movie, what results from this are happier and more cooperative co-parents.  Shouldn’t this be our goal here?

I think a good solution would be to create more healthy co-parenting solutions to eliminate income-based support in favor of absolute amounts with reasonable caps for non 50/50 custody arrangements.  And for the 50/50 arrangements, what if we decreased this to zero and to take the incentive away for parents trying to get greater than 50% custody.

I’m not a betting woman, however, I’m willing to bet that you would find most women would figure out how to make things work without entitlements and we would see an increase in 50/50 custody arrangements since the motive of money would be taken out of the equation. I think we could all agree, children would benefit from this.  

In the meantime, I believe we would have fewer combative divorces if child support orders were fair. As a result, we would see less animosity and increased positive co-parenting which in turn should always be the goal.

Hayley Lisa

The Divorce Coach for Men