Given the difficulties surrounding finances after divorce, it is understandable that the parent ordered to pay child support may require some time to get onto their own feet and offer assistance in financially supporting their child.
However, the order of child support does not always allow the paying parent that opportunity. They are expected to pay their monthly amount on time, and if they do not, they are subject to falling behind on payments and racking up debt.
This system is based on the child support model currently being employed by family courts and based on both the laws of the individual state and the system that has been in place for years. While this system was once apropos for how child custody situations were decided, how the stereotypical roles of men and women in a family dynamic were once defined, and how income earning in a given household has drastically changed.
These types of changes have failed to be accounted for within the current child support system, as children are spending more parenting time with both parents, as opposed to one parent over another.
Additionally, both dual-income households and households where the mother makes more money than the father are more and more commonplace. In those circumstances, decisions where alimony and child support payments are assigned to the father are based on outdated stereotypes that are not limited to the United States.
A study, published in the Journal of European Social Policy, examined how western countries outside of the United States have failed to update their child support systems, based on the changing of familial dynamics and how labor division affected child custody and child support rulings.
They analyzed the different countries and how they fit into three models of gendered labor division: the universal caregiver, the universal breadwinner, and the male breadwinner models.
These various forms of child care and labor models are drastically different. For example, in Sweden, Germany, and Finland, the paying parent of child support (typically the father) is incentivized to take up the children, in order to promote increased dual caregiving after separation and divorce. This makes the target goal of the child custody agreement to be a shared care arrangement or joint custody.
The universal breadwinner model applies to countries like the Netherlands and Denmark, where clear incentives for shared care are not expected and the division of child care is gender neutral. They do not actively target the participation of fathers in child care.
The family policies on caregiving in the United Kingdom, France, and Canada fit within the male breadwinning model that reflects the tradition division of gender roles. This has mothers as primary caretakers with low flexibility for parents to share parental leave and offers limited paternity leave.
Child support and complex families
The study highlighted how child support interacts with complex families, involving stepparents and step children, and how they may come into play in other countries, through the three models of gendered labor division. Germany differs from their universal caregiver cohorts of Finland and Sweden in this respect. In complex families, Germany has the paying parent divide the parental resources equally over all children, whereas in Finland and Sweden, both parents have child-related expenses deducted from income.
In Denmark, the paying parent divides the parental resources equally over children, similar to Germany, whereas in the Netherlands, both parents have both child-related and stepchild-related expenses deducted from income.
In Canada, the child support system gives absolute priority to the obligation toward common children from the marriage or relationship that sparked the need for child support in the first place. In order to grant a child full access to parental resources, the obligations toward new partners, other children that stem from previous child support orders or their own children in their household, stepchildren, and income of the new parent all are not considered.
This is slightly different than what occurs in France, where a child support obligation is considered to be a personal debt of the paying parent, making all other debts inferior to the child support order. Because of this, neither the income nor the expenses related to a new partner or stepchild affect the child support order. However, all children of the paying parent are entitled to maintenance and an equal share of the parent’s resource.
In the United Kingdom, they do not take new partners into account and only consider the paying parent’s resources. However, the stepchildren of the paying parent, as well as other children of the paying parent are considered in the calculation by reducing the parental income by a fixed percentage according to the number of other children requiring maintenance.
This analysis offers us, as citizens of the United States, a glimpse into the problems that many other countries face in the child support system. Complex families and shared care are not accounted for in how many courts calculate child support or set a child custody schedule.
Without considering the possibility that either parent is capable of being a breadwinner or that either parent is capable of being a caretaker, the system will continue to fail parents, who are simply trying to provide their children the best life possible after the difficulties of divorce.
If you are a parent who feels like you are paying too much in child support or that you need your child custody situation reexamined, you need to contact your family law attorney and go through the proper legal channels. By challenging how courts think about child care, child custody, and child support, children and parents alike are given a better opportunity to be there for one another in the future.