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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
Lovey's Mom June 16, 2009, 4:42 PM


What I said was $100 a week and the ex has LEGAL custody, meaning he makes all of the decisions re: school, doctors, etc. They have joint physical custody.
There is a difference.

Lovey’s Mom

Coop June 16, 2009, 5:49 PM

I get a little bitter about the subject of child support. It is my personal belief that CS is thrown out of whack do to over compensation do to dead Dad’s so the good Dad’s suffer. People love to use the statement the child should be able to live at the level of the non-custodial parent, but what about when the NCP make less wouldn’t it be unfair for child support to lower the standard of living for when the child is with the NCP??


Is that $465 enough to cover your utilities or car insurance? That in it self is a relief. Just imagine you didn’t have physical custody but you had to give up that $465 I bet it wouldn’t be that funny.

Coop June 16, 2009, 5:58 PM


As far as the amount that start pay that is crazy. It’s my belief that CS as should have a cap on what goes directly to custodial parent. Let’s say the cap is $5,000 directly to the CP and anything over that should go into a trust fund. For example if the CS is $25,000 a month then $5,000 to the NP to HELP with expenses outside of private school tution and 20,000 and the remainder should go into the trust.

Go Coop Go! June 16, 2009, 6:06 PM


Leslie June 16, 2009, 7:14 PM

Coop - As a matter of fact, $465 is not enough to cover my utilities. I live in Michigan, and any given cold weather month (Sept.-Apr/May) my gas bill alone is almost $400 (that’s keeping my house at chilly 66 degrees with a programmable thermostat). Obviously, thats not the only utility bill. Also, my child support order is LESS than $465/month. Whether I get $500/month or $11/month (last month’s total), I still have to take care of my kids, and have yet to factor in child support as my income when budgeting. Why? Because it’s basically optional. The numbers I quoted are the national average…and if you noticed, 52% of NCP’s DON’T pay what they are ordered (i.e., optional)…so it’s tough to argue that the courts should focus on a “cap”. Finally, to consider your financial contribution to your child’s care a “relief” to the CP is the attitude that gets us all here to begin with.

Scott June 16, 2009, 9:37 PM

Thanks for uncovering some of the many faults of the Child Support Guidelines.

In my case, I have my kids 3 days a week and still pay about 30% of my gross pay.

I have no car, no cable, no tv, I can’t afford vacations and am working 2 jobs. I’ve cashed about $10,000.00 of my 401k in the last 6 years to keep my house from being foreclosed on. My children’s mother has a 2 year old car, owns her own home and in the last 18 months, has visited Cape Hatteras, Montreal, Florida, Jamaica, Grand Cayman, and Hawaii… all while collecting $820.00/month-tax free from me. Every lawyer I talk to, so far 8 of them, tell me I have no chance because I’m non-custodial… the court doesn’t care that I have my kids almost half of the week.

Only 9 more years to go.

Anonymous June 16, 2009, 11:18 PM

I live in Ontario, Canada. Here, CS is completely based on parental income. My boyfriend and I have a son together and live together. He also has a daughter with someone else from before we met. His CS for that child is VERY flawed. The mother makes more from the government for just herself and one child than the two of us do COMBINED for all three of us and CS for the other one… and he still has to pay. We struggle to get by every month working our butts off, and she has NO problem sucking every last cent she can from the government, and we still have to hand her money every month. Flawed much???!!!

str8up June 16, 2009, 11:50 PM

As a NCP I can say that at least in my case something is wrong with the system. I payed child support for two children and lived on half of my paycheck. Literally, for at least 12 years I brought home half of my gross pay. I also worked another job and kept my visitation schedule as best I could. I never let the kids down when it came to visitation. Only if I were sick or had no choice but to go in to work. But I developed an aneurysm in 2005 and was unable to work. I was living in another state and had no time and no way to travel back to the state the order was in and file a motion. I was hospitalized on Aug 29th, the day Katrina hit New Orleans and operated on upon check in. My operation lasted 16 hours and I died on the table…twice. Three days later I developed MRSA which made three more surgeries necessary. During my hospital time my ex wife called and said “no wonder I wasn’t getting my child support, by the way your son hates you.” I got out of the hospital and went to a nursing facility to continue my treatment on antibiotics and moved into a homeless shelter for over a year because I had no income. I lived on $203 a month and was unable to work. I finally received my disability after nearly 2 years and now pay my ex $392 which is 1/3 of what I get. My medical bills are behind and I owe roughly $2,000 in back support to which the state has added nearly $8,000 in interest. I recently called my ex and explained that she could sign papers to allow some or all of that interest to be forgiven. She refused. In the month of June she received my normal support which is taken directly from my check, my economic stimulus check and my federal tax refund for a total of $897. In just one month! She still has my state tax refund to look forward to. I got a medical bill in the mail for over $500 with a $200 minimum payment today. I may need a pacemaker and I was just diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis and referred to a specialist. I can’t afford it. That is what fatherhood has done for me. BTW She divorced me to marry an old high school sweetheart which took place three days after we signed the papers.
Unreal huh?

Chrissy June 17, 2009, 1:12 AM

Leslie - thanks for some much needed facts.

Chrissy June 17, 2009, 1:21 AM

People - you would have car payments, ultilities bills regardless if you had kids or not. Child support shouldn’t be factored in to bills you would have incurred on your own.
Childcare, school supplies. clothing things like that should be.

sob3r June 17, 2009, 1:27 AM

Leslie…so let me get this straight child support is also meant to make sure the custodial parent is made comfortable? How much of the utility bill do you consider to be “your” part of raising “your” children? I think we lose sight of the fact that the NCP has utility bills and food to buy as well. Maybe you should petition the court for 100% of his income. Would that cover it? Pardon me for standing up for the NCP but come on.

MM Alexander June 17, 2009, 10:36 AM

Why is it that every comment from the Custodial Parent here is “The money I receive won’t cover ALL expenses…”
So now since the non-custodial parent is not a part of your life, he/she is responsible for ALL expenses related to the child? What happened to the child being a product of 2 people?
The court system supposedly based the amounts of what BOTH parents would be contributing from their income if they were both present in the home. So if the non-custodial parent is dropping $430 a month for the child your contribution should be the same (and we all know most of you aint spending $860 per month on a child).
Real Talk

MS June 17, 2009, 1:33 PM

CS is a scam that steals from children. Sure there are dads who need to be ordered to pay CS but the vast majority of dads would pay anyway. I’m a dad who pays $1,600/mo in CS for one child and I have 50/50 custody! There’s no question the CS is making my son poorer, not richer. If I wasn’t forced to pay “child support” to my ex-wife, who is an attorney making big bucks, I would spend on the money on my son, save for his education, etc. “Child support” is really adult support. My ex-wife spends it on luxury vacations for her and her boyfriend, on pedicures at fancy salons, on a new car every 3 years. My son is being ripped off by child support. The law should be changed to say that CS is limited to paying for the child’s basic needs (food shelter clothing medical). It should be felony if the mom spends the money on herself.

Jerwayne June 17, 2009, 6:14 PM

Damn str8up, ya baby’s mother may need to get the Rae Carruth treatment.

And I agree fully with whoever said the good fathers are punished by all the deadbeats.

And yeah I do love hearing custodial parents that want ALL their bills and expenses covered when the majority of those expenses would exist with or without a child.

Another question for someone who knows the laws. How does cost of living factor in to child support payments? Is that factored in at all?

Anonymous June 17, 2009, 6:29 PM

The current laws are unfair. Men are over paying for child support by far. I think that women should have to provide documentation for what they are spending money on. There are some women who need the money, but children are not a pay check or a reason to get lazy.

Southeast 619 June 17, 2009, 6:38 PM

They should have some kind of child support debit card so that the Mom or Dad who’s paying child support can recieve a monthly statement in the mail and know where his or her money is really going.

st8up June 17, 2009, 10:26 PM

Jerwayne, I have never laid a hand on this woman. My only mistake was to marry her and father her children. She is and has always been stubbornly selfish. She is also guilty of turning my children against me as the bad guy who didn’t pay up when he should have and therefore doesn’t love them.

str8up June 18, 2009, 12:54 AM

Jerwayne, In my case cost of living for the non custodial parent is not an issue for the Child Support Gestapo. They are out for as much money as they can legally get and then some. And if you don’t pay up they will add interest and get you when you die. That is the law of the land.

sob3r June 18, 2009, 12:59 AM

Jerwayne, In the case of the custodial parent cost of living means every dime they can squeeze out of the non custodial. On the other hand cost of living for them is as long as they live near a dumpster and have a sturdy box and a job.

sob3r June 18, 2009, 1:15 AM

MS, I would vote for the politician who proposes that legislation in a New York minute. “It should be felony if the mom spends the money on herself.”

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