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Your Child Is Not a Paycheck

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What you need to know about child support.

child with a piggy bank

Danielle Hoston: It's a known fact that the vast majority of non-custodial parents are fathers, and with Father's Day around the corner, I thought I'd venture into every father's favorite money topic ... child support. We've all heard of the "deadbeat dads" who deserve every bit of the bad rap they get, so this week I decided to take a closer look at how child support guidelines are determined, where the flaws are, and whether or not they are fair. Here's what you need to know to make a decision.

Income Shares Model
The most commonly used model for child support is the Income Shares model. It is based on the concept that the child should receive the same proportion of parental income that he or she would have received if the parents lived together. Although each state has its own guidelines, the formula generally combines the parents' income and then multiplies it by a particular percentage (based on the number of children) to arrive at a support obligation. This number is divided in half and the non-custodial parent will be obligated to pay it.

As a California native who has heard countless nightmare stories about child support, I was surprised to learn that Massachusetts is actually one of the most notorious states for "unfair" child support guidelines. In the state of Massachusetts, non-custodial parents can have a standard of living that is as much as 40% lower than that of an equally earning custodial parent and still be required to pay their half.

How is this possible?
Child support calculations do not take into consideration the tax benefits that custodial parents receive. Child support is not deductible for the non-custodial parent, and is not taxed as income for the custodial parent. Therefore, the non-custodial parent is responsible for all taxes (federal, state, local, social security, and FICA) on the paid child support. Furthermore, in most cases, only the custodial parent can claim the tax exemptions, tax credits, and take advantage of the lower tax rate for "head of household" filing status. Additionally, non-custodial parents often have expenses of their own (travel/transportation, extra clothes, etc.) related to the care of their child(ren) that are not accounted for in the initial calculation of child support.

Once the child support amount is determined, many fathers question how the child support is being spent. In California, it is assumed that child support received is being spent on the child. In at least 10 states (CO, DE, FL, IN, LA, MO, NE, OK, OR, and WA), however, non-custodial parents can demand a full accounting of expenses and spending of child support from custodial parents.

Deadbeat Moms ... and Dads
In my humble opinion, men that don't work, barely work, or hide their money in order to reduce their child support are disgusting. On the other hand, mothers who don't work, barely work, or inflate their children's expenses in order to turn their child support into a paycheck are pretty disgusting as well. They are equally "deadbeat" and the system should address child support guidelines accordingly.

I'd like to wish the happiest of Father's Days to my father and to the fathers who are paying their child support and lovingly raising their children. I'd also like to encourage both mothers and fathers to genuinely consider the best interests of their children when it comes to the use and payment of child support. A fair agreement on these matters can be the greatest step in the right direction for parents who are separated and help them toward a path of successful joint parenting.

Do you believe that current child support guidelines are fair or unfair? If you receive or pay child support, is the amount correct, too high, or too low?

next: Movie Night Without Breaking the Bank
57 comments so far | Post a comment now
Carla Singleton June 16, 2009, 5:18 AM

as a parent who went without child support for 3 1/2 years, I am not standing around feeling sorry for anyone but myself and for my children. I ended up getting a job where I was on call 24-7 and ended up losing precious time that I will never get back with my children. Did I make it-yes; is their dad paying child support now-yes, only after being put on 5 years probation by the state attorney general. As with any story, there is always a pro and con, but when children are put in the middle no one, including society, wins. Yes, I was married to their dad, yes they are all for the same man, but after 12 years of marraige, if a person quits a job after child support enforcement sends that job a garnishment letter, then there is a problem.

Anonymous June 16, 2009, 9:21 AM

Ok…I have a slightly differenct view on the subject. My husband and I recently went through a custody battle concerning his daughter with his ex-wife. She has never held a steady job or contributed financially in any way. Before the final custody ruling the friend of the court made child support recomendations. IF joint custody was granted (meaning each parent recieved equal time) they wanted us to pay her $500/month. WTF?! So we would be punished because she chooses not to work. Fortunately, we were granted full custody. FOTC recommended she pay us $200/month but we reduced it to $100 to make it easier for her and it is supposed to get directly deposited into a college fund for my husband’s daughter. It’s been seven months and we’ve only recieved 2 payments. So there are dead beat moms out there too!

Anonymous June 16, 2009, 9:52 AM

As someone who lives in one of the states that supposedly will ask for a full accounting of CS, let me tell you that no lawyer will even consider asking a custodial parent for that. They won’t even waste their time, unfortunately.

CS is a broken system.

Anonymous June 16, 2009, 10:18 AM

I had an ex-husband who didn’t pay for 15 years other than maybe at most $1000 in all that time. I begged and begged for help for the daughter that he begged me for. For 15 years he had an excuse as to why he couldn’t help pay (yes he was working, had a home, took trips etc.) He said if I forced him to pay he wouldn’t take his daughter for visits anymore (even though he only saw her like 3 to 5 times a year anyway cause he was too “busy” to deal with her).When I became unemployed due to health issues, I finally I went to court and they honored the $10 a week he was originally assigned when he was unemployed the month we divorced 15 years ago. If I wanted more than $10 a week I had to go back 7 years and prove that I had bills to pay for my daughter such as health care, food, clothes etc. I didn’t keep 7 years of records as to what it cost to raise her so all I ever got was the stupid $10 a week. It didn’t even cover her school lunch money. As a result of me taking him to court and having to pay $10 a week, he decided to get “even” with me by not speaking to his daughter again. What a lowlife. He used his child as a pawn and hurt her dearly in the process.

Anonymous June 16, 2009, 1:20 PM

Our child support is pretty fair but it doesn’t take into consideration all the out of pocket expenses. We carry the kids insurance, pay the taxes on the child support, pay for all sports (at least 4 a year), buy half the school clothes/supplies, half all out of pocket medical, drive both ways for visitation, and clothing at our house since the ex said it was too much laundry to do when they got home. It is a struggle. If we had a lot of money the kids could have it but we are not rich. We struggle pay check to pay check and I wish the ex understood that. The kids can’t have everything they want and it’s not because we don’t want to or they are not together. The kids would have the same restrictions in cash flow if they were together. Happy Fathers Day to all!

Anonymous June 16, 2009, 1:23 PM

As a non-custodial MOTHER, I can say the CS system is broken. My ex and his new wife make more then twice what my husband and I do, and yet, I am still paying.. My younger children go with out, so that the new wife and her daughter can drive a new minivan, and go to cheerleading classes. They have a house, and I live in a small apartment.

My only saving grace is my son will turn 18 soon, and it will finally be over!

Leanne June 16, 2009, 1:31 PM

I have been helping my fiance through the ongoing battle with child support, he pays 49 % of his paycheck every two weeks and we barely have enough to live on, yet the mom (because she is the custodial parent) doesn’t work, not even one minute does she put towards the monetary care of their children,but we still have to pay 49% of what we earn?? There are some major flaws with the child support system especially in California, it is unreal.

Momma June 16, 2009, 1:39 PM

“…non-custodial parents can demand a full accounting of expenses and spending of child support from custodial parents.”

How on earth would that even work??? What percentage of the custodial parent’s utility expenses would be attributed to the child? Same question about groceries. Would the custodial parent be required to keep track of how many paper towels and squares of toilet paper the child uses? Would child support cover the cost of light bulbs in the childs room only, or would the parent have to deduct a percentage of light bulb usage in the bathroom, kitchen, living room, etc. too?

Lovey's Mom June 16, 2009, 1:47 PM

It’s so true (and disgusting) about what happens in MA!!! My sister was a SAHM and the judge awarded her ex full legal custody and reduced her child support to $100 a week down from almost $400. He chooses the schools (private, of course), activities and camp - all of which she has to pay half. The child is 4. The ex even made her pay for half the cost of a lunchbox and he makes sooooo much money. That state has the most corrupt judges and custody system.

Mic June 16, 2009, 1:47 PM

My husband is the non custodial parent, & has always paid CS even before it was forced. My problem? Custodial parent has been on welfare for 15 yrs-yes step-son is 15. She has never had to work, but we have to pay CS regardess. My husband was laid off & took him over a year to find a job. I was off work due to an injury (that I still suffer from, but am able to work), he tried to keep up on CS, but things were VERY tight. So, they levied OUR bank acct taking all of our money that was there to cover checks for bills that had already been sent, & grocery money. So everything was returned & hundreds, & hundreds of dollars in fees, so MY children (that are his also) had to go without, I mean we were eating top ramen. This woman also got pregnant on purpose to try to keep him. It is infuriating!

Leslie June 16, 2009, 1:58 PM

Is the court system fair? Not for everyone, but lets look at the stats…In 2005, the average child support order was $465/month. About 47% of those custodial parents received the full amount of child support due, another 30% received some payments, which were less than what was ordered. The numbers also show that non-custodial parents who have visitation tend to pay more regularly, and it increases for those who have joint-custody (85%). We all hear about the insane child support awards that celebrities get, but that is by far not what the average person is awarded. I don’t know about anyone else, but I can’t live on $465/month, and breaking it down weekly, an extra $116 in my paycheck every week would be nice, but certainly doesn’t buy me a nice house and new benz. In my house, it probably won’t cover the week’s groceries, which is just a fraction of the expense of a child, considering that you’re lucky if you can find childcare for $150/wk. The courts have to factor in that expenses change. I can’t expect an extra $100 one month to help pay for gymnastics class. I just have to figure out how to pay for it…and those are the expenses that the non-custodial parent will almost always miss. In my opinion, anyone who thinks that paying $465/month for their child is too much has no clue what goes into parenting. Also, if you are the non-custodial parent and you live in a mansion and drive a benz, why should your child have to live a lifestyle that is far inferior to yours? You know how babies are made, and you have every opportunity to keep from having them, and if you were married and had kids, you can’t suddenly be pissed that you have to support two households. If you think you’re child support is too much, then petition the court. If they won’t change it, and you really can’t afford it, move to a smaller place or find ways to reduce your personal spending. Chances are, the custodial parent is not only making LOTS of financial sacrifices, but also dealing with the day to day responsibilities and unexpected expenses of your child. My child’s father may decide to stop paying child support, but I can’t/won’t decide to stop feeding my child. I think that before the courts try to regulate how a custodial parent spends their child support, they need to figure out how to force the vast number of deadbeat’s stay gainfully employed.

Jack June 16, 2009, 2:17 PM

Child support is the biggest racket ever. So is divorce. People need to stop looking to some judge to determine how they should live. It’s better to just stay together.

jess June 16, 2009, 2:42 PM

I am a single mother and from wxperience the child support system is messed up. In TN there really is nothing but a slap if the mother hires a lawyer and pushes it. I have spent thousands to get money that is already owed to my child. If you dont want to help raise the kids at least pay for them so we can raise them! Childcare is expensive!!! Keep that in mind when u talk about mothers not working.

steve June 16, 2009, 2:48 PM

Wow, “Lovey’s Mom” says her sister gets $100/month in child support even though the father has custody. WTF!!! The only other case like that I’ve ever heard of is my ex-brother in law who pays child support to my wife’s non-custodial sister. Hmmm, now what do these two cases have in common.

Holly June 16, 2009, 2:50 PM

I just went through a child support hearing last week for my 7 month old son. His father came unprepared, one tax return from 2007 (which is the year he made the least money), a few paystubs from his current part time job and nothing else! I came very prepared with everythign they asked of me. During the hearing the mediator asked him where he worked and what he made in 2008. SO…. since he came unprepared he was able to lie to the mediator about the money he made in 2008… therefore redusing his income by THOUSANDS of dollars. To make a long sotry short, he lied about his income and got away with it and now he only pays a very small amount of child support that I’m pretty sure would be doubled if he told the truth. Why does my son get punished for his fathers irresponsibiliy and untruths? Shouldn’t the government look this information up them selves with our social security numbers? I don’t think this was fair whatsoever. Getting back at me is one thing, but denying his child is another. And the government just lets them get away with it. There has to be a better way!!!!

Jerwayne June 16, 2009, 2:52 PM

I do believe the child support laws are unfair to a degree. I believe that the money that is paid in child support should be able to be used for tax purposes at the end of the year. With me and my ex we have never went through the courts for child support. But when it comes tax time and I see her receiving these huge tax refund checks due to her having custody, meanwhile I end up paying taxes even though I am sending a nice amount of money to her that goes unaccounted for.

I also believe that anyone receiving child support should show that they are trying to work and trying to provide for the child themselves. Just because one has custody should not relieve them of financial responsibility from having a child.

Holly June 16, 2009, 2:54 PM

Oh and I forgot to mention… my support order is for him to pay $270 a month. That will BARELY cover diapers and formula. Seriously?

Sandy June 16, 2009, 2:58 PM

I almost want to say I agree with you Jack…
In the other hand given my circumstances, I’m all for a fair agreement that would benefit our children. As a mother of three and fortunately independent woman, I have taken care of my kids financially mostly on my own. Yeah, pride can take over sometimes, taking responsability for my own choices..Though I have a problem with men who have money to be at concerts, bottle service at the club, picking up on girls pretending to be ballers, yet when it comes to their kids they are broke! To me that is disgusting!
I try to be un good terms with the father of my kids as he tends to be a better father when I acknowledge what he does do, instead of what he fails to do…
The system, good or bad is there for people that refuse to step up on their own, in my opinion anyway.

Leanne June 16, 2009, 3:55 PM

There has been much to say about how we shouldn’t forget how hard stay at home moms actually work, well I am a stay at home mom as well and it is by no means easy or cheap to choose this lifestyle, but I must point out that my fiance has the two kids with his ex she is the custodial parent( the one’s he pays cs to) and we have two of our own that suffer because the amount he has to pay is unreal. This is were I get upset because the mom of the other two does NOT work at all and abuses the child support she receives, it is very tiresome and irritating to say the least. Her new husband (which his kids are forced to call dad) makes a ton of money yet she says it is not enough to support the family??? and she needs more child support?

g June 16, 2009, 4:25 PM

Some may get offended by this, but I don’t give a crap.

No non custodial parent should have to pay $5,000 plus a month for child support. What kid needs $5,000 a month.

Some celeb parents are paying thousands of dollars for child support. Please take care of your kids but you don’t need to take care of the baby moms too.

Maybe I wouldn’t feel this way if the money wasn’t being mailed to the custodial parent.

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