Author Topic: Child Support and Custody Problems - by Ben Huie  (Read 9582 times)


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Child Support and Custody Problems - by Ben Huie
« on: March 14, 2012, 12:10:44 AM »
Fair Child Support and Parenting Time
 There comes a point where a system is so convoluted that it is better to start over rather than try to tweak the system enough to fix it. This is similar to what is known in the business world as ‘zero-based budgeting’.  The child custody/support system has definitely reached that point.  The fundamental assumptions behind the system are out-moded and need to be changed.
 Gender Bias
 There is considerable gender bias built into the system as a relic of days long gone by.  The female parent is all too often automatically assumed to be the better care-giver while the male parent is expected to provide the majority of the financial support.  While this may have been the norm a half-century ago such bias is clearly inappropriate in the 21st century. (I note for context that I grew up in a divorced household that long ago and so am very familiar with the way things once were) Unfortunately there are still those in the system who believe in such sexist bias; they need to be removed from any decision-making power. Just as women have fully equal rights with men in the workplace and women can run for president, men should have fully equal rights with women in parenting.  There is no place for gender bias in the 21st century.
 In order to make my entire discussion gender-neutral I will refer only to Parent A and Parent B.  This assignment should be made by coin flip at the beginning of the case so that there is no way to determine (at least from paperwork) the gender of the parents. 
 The prima facie assignment of custody should be 50-50 reflecting the equality of the parents.  Only if there are overriding circumstances justifying unequal custody or an agreement between the parents should custodial rights be unequal.  As discussed above today in the 21st century we have acknowledged women’s rights in the workplace and so should recognize men’s rights in the homes.  A number of factors might dictate unequal custody; for example if one parent travels all week for work the other parent might have weekdays while the traveling parent might have weekends when he/she is home.  A more extreme case might be a parent whose work requires travel including many weekends in which case the custody might be 100% with liberal visitation.  Custody decisions might also be influenced by lack of housing on the part of one of the parents.
 Child Support
 It is in the support area where the legacy of a gender biased past is most strongly reflected.  The automatic action of the Courts has been to award support to the female parent from the male parent EVEN WHEN THE FEMALE PARENT HAS A HIGHER INCOME.  Such a perverse ruling has absolutely no place in the 21st century in which women have finally been accorded their rights in the workplace.  Ideally, if both parents have similar incomes and they share custody 50-50 then there should be NO support with each equal parent directly supporting their children equally.  It is when the incomes are different that support payments become justified.  This is best described with scenarios based on various assumptions and circumstances.
 Example 1.  Two parents, 50-50 custody, A earns $25,000/year and B earns $35,000/year.  One child, assume cost for child is $10,000/year. The parents combined earn $60,000/year with Parent A earning 42% and Parent B earning 58%.  Therefore Parent A should be responsible for $4167 of support and Parent B for $5833.  Since each parent will be directly paying for half of the support of the child while in their respective homes ($5000 each) then Parent B shall pay $833/year support to Parent A.  This serves to ‘equalize’ the lower-earning parent compared to the higher-earning parent.  In this 50-50 custody scenario there should be no ‘primary’ or ‘nonprimary’ residence.  Instead, this should be based on full equality of the parents.  These concepts are relics of the old biased system.
 Example 2.  Same incomes as above but 80-20 custody.  This might reflect, for example, a situation in which lifestyles dictate weekdays with Parent A and weekends with Parent B.  Now the direct costs to the parents are $8000 for A and $2000 for B.  Parent B now pays $3583 to Parent A.  Again, the idea is to equalize the burden; not to increase it.
 Example 3.  Similar to example 2 but with incomes reversed.  In this case the lower-income parent would, in fact, have to pay $2167 to the higher parent.  This reflects the fact that the higher-income parent has much larger direct costs ($8000 vs. $2000) for the care of the child.
 Example 4. Parent A has full custody and earns $20,000/year.  Parent B earns $100,000/year.  This scenario probably represents the ‘typical’ situation of a half-century ago.  With a total income of $120,000 between the two parents A has 17% and B has 83%.  Therefore A should be responsible for $1667 and B for $8333/year and B shall pay the entire $8333 to A as support.
 The key to these scenarios is that each parent should be expected to provide an equal fraction of his/her income to support the child(ren) and that support be calculated to achieve that.  Obviously each case will be different – special needs, specific expenses that may be paid direct by one parent (medical, daycare, school fees for example), etc.  Thus a family cannot simply be placed in a cookie-cutter calculation but rather all of the factors should be considered.  The CONCEPT, however, remains the same:  each parent has equal rights and equal responsibilities.   The level of support should be revisited and recalculated any time that either parent has a significant income change – loss of job, raise, etc.
 The whole idea I have tried to convey and implement is EQALITY. Children should be allowed to grow up with BOTH of their parents and should learn that equality and fair play are fundamental values.  This cannot happen when their parents are treated with inequality by the Court system.  I have also attempted to equalize the lifestyles the children experience when with their two parents.  The current system tends to impoverish one parent, often the already lower-income parent, in favor of the other parent.  This is a legacy of the gender-biased past and should be discarded.
 All of the above calculations can be made consistent with the existing “Child Support Worksheet” if all of its assumptions of INEQUALITY are removed.  I invite comments; particularly in regards to my calculations of child support above.
 Children’s Rights

 Totally ignored in the system as it exists today are the rights of the children.  They are, instead, treated as chattel with no rights or self-determination.  Therefore there needs to be an advocate for the children.    This becomes an extremely difficult topic as it will tend to increase costs (which we would all like to decrease) and can increase contention in the divorce/support case.  Factoring the children’s interests into custody decisions is, of course, vary difficult.  This is especially true if the children are very young and therefore unable to express their wants and needs well.  However, an older child should have some rights in this matter.  While choosing an age at which rights accrue it would seem that if the Court believes that a child is old enough to be left home alone that child is also sufficiently mature to have input into his/her life.  Children do have constitutional rights in this country.  As US Supreme Court Justice Abe Fortas noted “"Neither the 14th Amendment nor the Bill of Rights is for adults alone.  Under our Constitution, the condition of being a boy does not justify a kangaroo court." 

 Court Mediators

 Court ‘Mediators’ have all too often become a problem as they will tend to favor one parent over the other parent.  Their use should be avoided if possible and, if they are used, they should be required to abide by the established ethical guidelines for mediators elsewhere in the Court system.  I have served as a mediator in the Sedgwick County  District Court.  As a mediator I did NOT make decisions; I only worked to try to guide the parties involved toward an agreement – and agreement that they owned.  Family Court ‘Mediators’ (sic) assume dictatorial powers and their decisions are routinely rubber-stamped by the Court.  This is only one of the many areas where a party is denied due process by Family Court.