The Law and Economics of Child Support Payments By William S. Comanor (with information from 13 contributors)
“There is an increasing need for further consideration of the child support system. My goal for this volume is that it provides an impetus for this effort. The current system cries out for needed change.” (Page XVII) Where do you begin except with this quote from this book. It clearly states the message that there is a significant problem with the current child support system, though you would expect this opinion from a Child support paying father, right? Well, what about from a child support receiving mother? Or rather, a single mother who has declined her child support rights because of how broken the system is? “To a great extent, the leading motivation behind the new child support policies was not to provide additional support for single-parent households as much as to reimburse government agencies for welfare payments already provided.” (Page 3). WOW! Is this why the child support system is broken? Yes, however, that’s not the broken piece I focus on.
Unfortunately, most divorced or “broken families” don’t work in a way that each parent can mutually agree for the welfare of the child or children and are not concerned with the financials of the other, which is heavily addressed in this book. Most “broken families” are quite the opposite in fact, one parent benefits while the other pays, and the one benefitting uses the payment as a sort of trade of goods to the payee for visitation. This leads to the main question that is asked repeatedly, “why are non-custodial parents not willing to pay?” The answer to this question, I have deduced myself, is not a single answer but many (of which I was not surprised to find).
Reason one: Standard of living differences between both parents. Rogers and Bieniewicz report “the custodial parent typically ends up with a substantially higher standard of living than the non-custodial parent – even when the non-custodial parent starts with higher gross earning” (page 11). The model of if a married couple each earn the same amount, collectively they will provide 1/3 of their collective income to the child and retain or consume 2/3 for themselves. However, the married couple divorces, they retain their individual incomes and for arguments sake they are equal. Each will continue to spend 1/3 on the child and 2/3 on themselves. However, child support laws are designed so the non-custodial parent needs to supplement their absence and in turn their financial absence from the child’s primary home (neglecting the same need that may be required in their own home during the time the child is present in this home). Therefore, the Non-custodial parent will pay that 1/3 to the custodial parent, raising the parent’s living standards while obviously lowering their own. Unfortunately though, the custodial parent will continue to only spend 1/3 of the raised income on the child. Why would any logical person want to raise the living standards of their ex?!
Reason two: Visitation and support linked together rather than treated separately and used as a bargaining tool. Wallerstein and Kelly reported “30 percent of respondents actively tried to sabotage meetings between their children and the non-custodial parent”, what?! Well, if you look at child support and visitation from the economic views of ‘goods’ and ‘bads’ (paraphrased from page26) in a market economy one party pays another party in return for something of value to the paying party, creating a balance between the two parties of benefit; economic ‘good’. Conversely, an economic ‘bad’ would be a deal that would cause one party to pay the other party for relief from a burden. If you look at children as economic ‘goods’ and ‘bads’ (I do see how terrible this sounds but please bare with me on this) a non-custodial parent who pays his child support would expect to have liberal visitation with the child; economically ‘good’; whereas a non-custodial parent who pays child support and receives little to no visitation would be economically ‘bad’. This would cause the non-custodial parent to reject the idea of making said payments and subsequently in the ‘bad’ scenario could cause the non-custodial parent to reject visitation of the child.
I will address other reasons in future posts. In the meantime, what proposals currently exist to eliminate these two issues? What suggestions would you suggest to resolve these problems?