Stop Paying Child Support by Supporting Your Child

 

Child and spousal support laws don’t account for the increased involvement of fathers

For the past 11 years, I have been fortunate to be a full-time musician. Since the time of our daughter’s birth in 2003, I have been home with her during the day and working at night. Three years before my marriage ended, my wife and I agreed to switch roles. In order to make this arrangement work, I was extremely ambitious and found a way to work a 9-5 job as well as teach, perform in an Off-Broadway show and play weddings. I paid all the bills while she took care of our daughter. After two years of trying to fit back into the corporate world, I started to get burned out from the corporate lifestyle and quit. I also noticed a lack of communication between my wife and I. My focus was on our family; her attention appeared to be on the social calendar. My frustration with what seemed to be a lop-sided allocation of duties in our home-made for several stress filled months. Not only was I the sole breadwinner, I took care of many of the duties at home.

The birth of our second child only intensified the tension in our home. I felt my wife was unwilling to continue the therapy sessions we’d set up to find a way to repair our marriage. The constant arguing and conflict at home led to her hiring an attorney and filing for divorce.

Our custody battle began in Family Court. During our first hearing, I received a court order for spousal support, which stated I was to continue paying all the bills until our case went to Supreme Court. On top of paying the household expenses, I had to pay my ex an additional $500 a month. I was furious. I questioned why I was responsible for everything and my wife was only responsible for being with the children.

Soon after filing, my wife began using the children as pawns to anger and frustrate me. She filled the kid’s day with play dates, and after one of our many heated arguments, took the kids to her mother’s home in another state for two weeks so I could not see them. In addition to alienating me from my children, my wife called the police after several arguments in futile attempts to have me vacate the marital residence and be thrown in jail.

When our case was transferred to New York State Supreme Court, things began to change. A few months into our dispute I received an unlikely source of inspiration. My family had given me a father’s day gift certificate to a men’s spa. Here is where I received life-changing advice from a female staff member who’d gone through a divorce several years before. She and her former spouse had mutually agreed that their son be raised by his father. She informed me that in New York State, couples had the option to “opt out” of paying child support upon dissolution of marriage. I immediately called my attorney and told him I was doing just that—opting out.

After 11 months in and out of court, we settled. We agreed that my parenting time would take place during the day; hers at night, and no one would pay child support. I wouldn’t have it any other way. I walked out of the courtroom secure in the knowledge that I could financially support our two children in a way that made much more sense to me. I did not succumb to the societal pressure to pay an ex-wife child OR spousal support because men have traditionally done so.

The threat of divorce should not stop anyone from having a healthy relationship with his or her children.

I’m not sure many men have the testicular fortitude to endure the pain it takes to achieve this goal. I read several books on what to do and what not to do in custody battles. I certainly thought of giving up but never did. I was driven to get the court to understand the seriousness of my desire to be a fully committed parent and I was willing to go through the financial expense of seeing it through. I became good at understanding how the courts worked and the law as it applied to my case. I persevered in demonstrating that I was rational, reasonable, and always focused on the best interest of my children. I didn’t live a victim’s life. I didn’t leave the marital residence, I wasn’t taken to jail, I never assaulted my ex, and I remained devoted to my two children. I always took the high road and never talked badly about my ex to our children.

I feel state ordered child support should only be enforced when a spouse chooses to abdicate the responsibility of raising their children. There is no excuse for a parent to abandon their children. It does not matter how angry you are with your ex. The threat of divorce should not stop anyone from having a healthy relationship with his or her children.

It is easy to abuse a system that was set up in the 1950’s to assist with the necessary expenses of child rearing. I have seen many cases where spousal and/or child support is automatically assumed to be part of divorce even though it may be unwarranted. Men, who truly desire to be a part of their children’s lives, need not pay their future ex-wife at all. My ex and I peacefully co-exist without state ordered child or spousal support. If a spouse chooses to not pay child support, it requires a lifelong commitment to taking care of your children—something that, unfortunately, some parents are not willing to do.

I must emphasize that I don’t want to minimize the importance of child support for those who really need it. There are far too many single mothers that do not receive anything from the noncustodial father. I am merely pointing out that when there are two loving parents that want to be actively involved in their children’s lives after divorce, there is no need to travel down the expected path of family court and mandatory child and/or spousal support.

I think it’s time to think differently about how divorce is handled in the new millennium and find ways to improve an antiquated system that can do more harm than good.

I say it’s time to stop paying child support and support your children!

—photo by Phil Roeder/Flickr

—this essay originally appeared at CINCOPATION

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About Clayton Craddock

Clayton Craddock is a dedicated single father, musician, social reformer and thought leader living in New York City. You can check out his blog CINCOPATION which is dedicated to thinking differently about fatherhood. Follow him @claytoncraddock

Comments

  1. A great reframe of the typical gender biased approach to caring for the kids after divorce. Fathers that take on a full 50% (or more) of child care after a divorce continue to face pressure to pay the children’s bills at their former spouse’s home. Reverse the genders in this situation and people would be outraged. The world simply isn’t what it used to be. Women often make as much or more than the father in many families, especially when dad’s take a financial hit to do more at home parenting.

    I’m not saying a rich man (or rich woman) shouldn’t support both households in the case of divorce where their spouse has less resources, but the law treats all men as if that was a given. And as if the act of engaged parenting by a woman has a dollar value, while the same work by a man somehow does not. As if his wish to take it on should be only allowed after he has paid for the privilege.

    The most important part of this equation is that by handing full time funds to the mother, while taking on a 50% role in parenting, Dads are forced to abdicate control over how those full time parenting funds are spent. The money simply disappears behind the firewall of their former wife’s household. Then they get hit with the costs at their house as well, costs which the court seems to think are somehow invisible. Its a penalty for being an engaged loving post divorce parent based solely on gender.

    Dad’s deserve the option to be valued equal co-parents after divorce, not forced to be a gendered bank account that the courts force to be tapped like some kind of failed marriage ATM.

  2. Hurting Dad says:

    I was just at Supreme Court yesterday morning because the mother of my three children wanted a lot more money than I was paying.

    When the court didn’t change anything, it would appear she became angry and vented to her mother. How do I know? I received a very nasty email from her mother about me trying to take money away from my kids.

    The good thing is that I can look at myself in the mirror knowing that I have my kids almost 50% of the time (I have my kids overnight one night a week, in the evening for a few hours another night a week, and every other weekend from Friday PM to Monday AM) and I am giving them a good place to live when they are with me.

    I love the irony that their mother had me thrown out of the family home, kept the nicer car, and is now struggling to pay the bills associated with keeping the home and the nice car.

    Be careful what you wish for….

    • AmazingSusan says:

      “the mother of my three children” “my kids”

      Presumably, as she is their mother, they are also her children, not just yours. Furthermore, I would suggest that children are not some kind of possession as would be implied by the way in which you refer to them….

  3. This is a great idea and puts focus on parents demonstrating personal responsibility.

    Note the following wrinkle, though. In New York State, the child support guideline is that the parent who has income of as little as one dollar more than the other parent will pay the full child support payment, regardless of parenting time. If both parties do NOT agree to opt out, like described in this article, then the guideline will likely be enforced.

  4. I understand both sides of the equation. As a former social worker, I dealt with a lot of dads that refused to step to step up to the plate. They didn’t want to support their children or see them (in this case, child support is a must). I have also seen the loving, engaged, supportive father that gets the “shaft” and has been ordered to pay child support, spousal support and anything else the courts can think of.

    In my opinion, what makes the equation so unbalanced is the men who refuse to step up to the plate. They give fathers and fatherhood a bad name. Taking care of your children is a lifelong commitment and it should never be taken lightly by any man. I feel that the system “could” become more balanced if all men would just except they have a responsibility to take care of their children (Yes…I know I am living in a dream world but it is one way for the bias to stop in court decisions)

    Aaron Brinker aka DadBlunders

    • Its ridiculous how you can see what men go through at the hand of their child’s mother, and still lay the blame at mens feet.

      • I think if you would read my reply ….I said and i quote “what makes the equation so unbalanced is the men who refuse to step up to the plate.”

        It is these men that make the playing field unequal for the fathers that want to do good. It is because of them the courts generally side with the mothers. I have seen fathers that want nothing to do with their children. It is these same men that much later life will live with regrets whether it be close to their death bed or sometime around there they will have them.

        I also stated the system could become balanced if and only if this particular set of men would except some responsibility. I never once in my reply stated that I didn’t think things were slanted or unfair….I simply stated to make things better for men that want to do good, all men have to except some responsibility for their children.

        • No the law-makers and public who only have a limited viewpoint are making the playing field unequal. One man relinquishing his role as a father shouldn’t effect another man who wants to be a father to his child. Put the responsibilities where it belongs, on the law-makers.

        • John Schtoll says:

          Aaron: you really should do so research on the stats regarding CS. According to the latest I have seen 70% of all fathers who are orderd to pay CS pay it in full. A large number who don’t pay in full, do so because they can’t actually afford to pay what they are ordered.

          In contrast btw, Mothers only pay in full 40% of the time.


        • I never once in my reply stated that I didn’t think things were slanted or unfair….

          But you did comment that you’ve seen dads who get the “shaft”, with quote marks. Was that meant as something other than a non serious mention of the ways they are treated?


          I also stated the system could become balanced if and only if this particular set of men would except some responsibility.

          Unfortunately that is only one part of the puzzle. My girlfriend has a brother who has a young son that he has shared custody with the mother over. About a month ago said young son had several rash spots on his body (including his genitals). This was discovered at night. Why couldn’t the mother go home and find the son’s insurance information (which I think is a bear minimum I’d think she’d blaze a trail to the hospital where he was taken)? She was out at the club.


          I feel that the system “could” become more balanced if all men would just except they have a responsibility to take care of their children….

          You know what would also help? Quit feeding these illusions that non-custodial fathers comes in two flavors. The suit and tied corporate money bags that makes ungodly amounts of money but spends more time out of the country on vacation than actually in the country working, much less fulfilling his responsibilities. The guy that lives about 1 paycheck above the poverty line but open brags about not caring about the kids he helped create.

  5. It would be great to see more mothers (and fathers) cooperating in this sort of thing. It’s enormously more in the child’s best interests than almost any other option in divorce in the vast majority of cases.

    • Agreed.

      “Best interests of the child” has become alomst a catchy buzzword. Invoked not in situations where the well being of the child is actually considered, but invoked in situations where the illusion of caring for the well being the child is needed.

  6. Here is an idea that sounds just like what the author discusses:
    http://www.mediate.com/articles/parenting_plans_sample_lang.cfm

  7. John Schtoll says:

    The problems with CS are many, here are some. Some are from the US, Some from where I live in Canada

    In no particular order

    1) Child support does not belong to the child (Canada) and (Some US states). There is no accounting, the money does not have to be spent on the child and items purchased with the money don’t belong to the child. This creates an essential wealth transfer from one person to another with a MAYBE benefit to the child, but by no means a guaranteed one , combined with #2 this is a huge problem

    2) No upper limit on CS , only limit is non custodial parents income (Canada) and some US States. This means at some point , the money transferred is way past what is need to actually support the child.

    3) CS and subsequent payments are a RIGHT OF THE CHILD (even though they don’t own it). This means a child of divorced parents has a right to have their post secondary education paid for where intact families have no such legal obligation. Some would question what is wrong with it being a right of the child, answer = The child has the right, but no responsibility and that RIGHT ends up in the lap of the custodial parent.

    4) In Canada, the CS payments are not tax deductable, so the custodial parent gets money , pays no taxes on the money and also get any ‘baby bonus’ or similar payments (tax deductions) for the child. Again becoming a wealth transfer.

    5) CS is ENFORCED by the government and it’s huge red tape machine, including jail time, garnishments, removal of professional licenses/ passports etc. While visitation is solely at the cost of the non custodial parent (read: father), this creates a HUGE incentive to have a winner take all attitude in getting custody of the kids and NO incentive to provide unfeathered visition, in fact there is a huge incentive to provide as little visitation as possible.

  8. Charles Wilson says:

    Lincoln said revolutions don’t go backwards. I don’t concern myself with divorce being right or wrong. Many marriages end in divorce. I believe in supporting family. I am in favor of an interpretation of law that supports constructive communication and a more pliable definition of what constitutes family. If we become more supportive of each other individually, and as groups, perhaps fewer marriages will end in divorce.

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  1. […] Clayton Craddock noted in his recent article, Stop Paying Child Support by Supporting Your Child, parents can opt out of child support in New York State, but only if both agree to allow it. This […]

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