In 1988, a Federal law was passed mandating that each state create child support guidelines. Most child support formulas consider only three things: 1) who has custody? 2) what are the parent’s incomes?, and 3) are there any other items, such as child care or health insurance? Unfortunately, this formulaic system of deciding child support is not working well, inherently creates a sense of unfairness and the child support formulas have generated unnecessary custody battles and time-sharing disputes.
There are five major flawed assumptions made by the courts when applying child support guidelines:
- A “one-size-fits-all” approach that uses a single mathematical formula is unfair. The specific expenses for raising children are unique to each family. The formula ignores a host of other considerations such as housing costs, the children’s ages, extracurricular activities, special needs, debt obligations, and other extraordinary costs of one or both parents such as medical costs. Not only is the main question of whether or not the child support actually meets the needs of the child(ren), it does not address whether there is enough money to pay the support.
- Parents don’t know what child support payments are supposed to be used for. Child support is supposed to cover the basic needs of a child. But what does that mean? Housing, clothing, food and healthcare are assumed to be basic needs by most but what about extra expenses? Parents disagree about what is supposed to be covered by the support. Children will always get caught in the middle. For instance, 10 year old Bobby wants guitar lessons and Mom says “Ask your Dad to pay for that. I don’t receive enough child support to pay for that.” The Dad says “I’m paying Mom $900 per month in child support and that is what that support is for.”
- Courts assume that parents are not competent enough to determine their children’s expenses and how to share them. Although parents have been able to jointly figure out how to support their children since their birth, courts are of the false assumption that if parents cannot live together as husband and wife, one parent must be put in charge of their children’s lives and expenses. When money is sent to the primary custodial winner, that parent can use the money in whatever way that parent chooses to use it, which is unfair and builds resentment. The reality is that divorce does not disqualify one parent from the ability to co-parent and both parents can continue to participate in financial decisions regarding their children.
- Child support guidelines link days to dollars. Under most guidelines, the more “overnights” a parent has with a child, the more child support that parent gets. This can create child custody battles to “get the most time”. In reality, where the child sleeps does not reflect who has the most costs related to a child. Other than food, almost all expenses of a child can be paid by either parent and are not generally tied to time with their children.
- The legal system creates an adversarial system of engagement to create a support plan for children. In the family court system, parents are adversaries and must battle each other for more child support or fight to pay less child support. Courts advise parents to hire attorneys, which has a high financial and emotional toll. Parents are capable of having constructive negotiations when the needs of their children change and can find sensible ways to find how to share those associated costs, but the court system hinders that.
The Child Support Account is a new approach to providing financial support for children. It changes parent’s mentality from conflict and legal contest to developing a financial plan to pay for the changing needs of their children. Most parents desire the input from the other parent and will cooperate to meet the children’s needs. Parents are capable, by themselves or with the help of a family mediator, to jointly figure out a monthly budget of the children’s expenses and to jointly figure out what they can and cannot afford. Once a budget is agreed upon, a joint bank account can be created where either parent can use the funds to pay for the budgeted expenses and both can see that the funds are going directly to meeting the child’s needs. Divorced parents become parenting partners and they can periodically review and change the budget according to their growing children’s changing needs and their changing incomes, without the need to go back to court.