Child-Support: Paying Your Fair-Share Or Funding Your Ex-Spouse’s Spending Spree?

2012-05-09_14-05-44_130Michael looked at me with a stunned glare. I re-ran the child support calculations again. After some (but not all) of his taxes were considered, the calculator showed the same number, 25% of his income for child support. “I knew I was going to pay; I just didn’t know it was going to be that much!”

Primary bread-winners repeat after me: you agreed to pay the bills during the marriage and you are stuck paying after the divorce.

Many times, the amount isn’t unfair, but rather the fact that you are forced to pay an ex-spouse (who probably gave you some emotional scars). And, on top of that, you have no ability to control how that money is spent (or if that money is even spent on the child — or her endless shoe collection). 

But, what does it cost to raise a child? Last year, the US Department of Agriculture reported that the cost from birth to age 18 was $234,900.00.  The figure was in terms of 2011 dollars for two middle-income parents (earning between $59,410 and $102,870 a year) raising a child in a two-child family. See Expenditures on Children by Families report.

Odds are high that the number is only going up. The report suggests that the largest expenditure is housing (about $70,560 or 30% of the total cost). The other expenses breakdown into childcare and education (18%), food (16%), transportation (14%), healthcare (8%), clothing (6%), and miscellaneous (8%).

In New York—as in a few other states—there is a child support statute that includes payment “guidelines.” The payor will pay roughly 17% of their income for one child. If you are earning $76,800 a year, that puts you at a child support obligation of $13,056 annually ($1,088/month). This number is fairly consistent with the federal number that you will pay $234,900.00 annually to age 18 (or $1,087.50/month) for one child.

Of course New York differs from other states because our incomes are generally higher, but child support runs three years longer here (until the kid is 21 years old). Those factors may equal out. Other states have far more flexible child support schemes that may actually require the payor to pay less than the federal average.

Perhaps then, this is money you were going to spend on the child anyway, it just wasn’t as “in your face” as writing a check to your ex-spouse.

The reasoning behind paying is also fair: childcare is expensive and child-rearing is tedious. The math is fair. The logic is sound. But the practical application still causes you grief. You are writing a check to someone and you have no ability to control how the money is spent or if it is even spent on your child — the most common complaint I hear about the child support laws. And, if you fail to meet the obligation to pay, you face possible jail time as a sanction.

But back to my client “Michael,” sitting in my office.  The good news was that his children were older, limiting the number of years he was facing. The bad news? “What about joint custody? If we share the kids equally, then I don’t pay right?” Wrong. In New York, as in several other states, the law spells out that even in equal-time parenting situation, the “monied-spouse” still pays! I probably don’t need to mention that usually the “monied-spouse” is male.

Of course, an equal time-split may be a factor for a support magistrate to consider deviating from the state’s child support guidelines, but some magistrates are hard to convince. Maybe magistrates get a little jaded, after all no one walks into a child support hearing and says “Judge, I make plenty of money — hit me with as much as you can!”

Still, having greater time with the children and a lower child support payment might help equalize that feeling that you are paying with no control — after all, time with them is priceless.

What do you think? Are there any creative solutions to reconcile how the law is applied in real terms?

This post originally appeared at The Good Men Project.

2 thoughts on “Child-Support: Paying Your Fair-Share Or Funding Your Ex-Spouse’s Spending Spree?

    1. I live in New York and am now a single father. Mom threatened me during our relationship with child support and was well versed in the laws. Her objective was to get me to better understand that she had the power and wanted to make all decisions. We were never married and not together very long before having a beautiful baby boy. I’ve never been all that great with regards to making money. In fact she made more than I but we split most expenses during the first ten months before I was dragged through a custody battle. I asked for fifty fifty shared custody as I was in my sons everyday life and she refused. I’m New York it takes both parents to agree in order to get fifty fifty shared custody. Also I explained to her many times that I had no issues splitting all expenses related to our son. After almost 40k went to lawyers we have joint legal custody and I get to see my son or he me on weekends. She put him in daycare immediately (even though we both live with our parents have the help). Her main focus was to get child support in order to take what she needed for the decisions that she solely made or makes. The courts were very unfair since in NY the guidelines call for 17% per child. But in my case as in many other my income was increased on paper by the support magistrate to nearly double of what I have ever made in my life. Also I was asked to pay for 70% of daycare costs even though I asked to care for him in place of daycare. I’m sorry to those who have been burned by the system. But one sex should never have power like this over another. My life has been heavily burdened by the inability to move forward with my ex and now I’m being punished. Threat carried out perfectly.

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