The unstated 1st Principles

by , under Divorcing parents

The main problem with calculating child support seems to be the underlying assumptions (which are more basic than the ones stated previously as “first principles.”) I believe the unstated principles are as follows:

  1. Divorcing parents are not reliable. Married parents are reliable.
  2. Divorcing parents will not be able to act in the best interest of the child unless intervention is made or they are forced to by rule of law. Married parents are presumed to always be able to do so; intervention requires extensive justification and should only be pursued in extreme circumstances.
  3. Children of divorcing parents should always spend the majority of their time in the physical presence of one parent, usually the mother. Where or with whom children of married parents spend the majority of their time is of no consequence.
  4. The divorcing parent who is “awarded” custody of the children should be repaid monetarily for all or most of the time they spend with their children. A married parent does not require any such payment. I do not believe that any parent should be given the opportunity to “opt out” of responsibility for their child(ren). But I also do not believe that divorcing parents should be held to a higher standard than married parents. Most of the efforts at determining child support award levels are wrong-headed, IMHO, because they buy into the principles outlined above without examining whether they are in fact true in the situation at hand.

Arguments about how child support awards should be determined often depend on assumptions that treat monetary support as the logical equivalent of “care and maintenance.” Then the argument degenerates into either “I pay for this, so you have to pay for that” or “I invest my time, so you have to invest your money.” That’s only if the argument didn’t completely stop at “You make X amount…hand Y% over to me!” To take a mental detour for a moment, we’ve all read that factoid that the human body is worth approximately $2.98, from a chemical standpoint. This is usually pointed out as an irony, given that we place so much value in our bodies.

However, the way monetary value is assigned depends on the context: Cadavers are invaluable in medical research, and they are obviously made of the same $2.98 worth of materials. And functioning organs are more valuable still. The point I want to make is that child support awards, like the human body’s value, needs to be viewed in an appropriate context. To a custodial parent who has been abandoned by an irresponsible partner, that award might make all the difference in the world in whether what is left of a devastated family will be able to make it this month or next. Unfortunately, if the other parent was irresponsible enough to leave without providing adequately for the children in the first place, no amount of mathematical gymnastics will be successful in putting food on that family’s table.

To a so-called “non-custodial” parent who pays everything that the law requires and pays more still voluntarily, that award may seem to go not to the children, but to an undeserving ex-spouse. Perhaps that money could be better invested in the children’s future needs, or “saved for a rainy day,” but there is no choice in the matter. And there are lots of little inequities that make it difficult to accept the proposition that the child support award is made “in the best interest of the child(ren).” Bottom line, I think it should be a lot harder to get child support, and a lot easier to get child custody.