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A New Era in Divorce and Child Support

About half of all marriages end in divorce. While that percent has stayed fairly stable over recent years, the look of divorce and child support payments have changed dramatically, according to a survey released recently by American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers.

Fifteen years ago, the general mindset was that men should pay support to mothers, says AAML President James Hennenhoefer. Convincing courts that women needed to pay to support children wasn't an easy task. And courts generally issued fairly low child support amounts -- in the range of $500 to $600 a month for a husband making $10,000 a month.

Divorcing parents, though, have seen a gradual shift over the last 10 years as both attitudes and state and local initiatives to track deadbeat parents have evolved.

More than 2 million children in the United States live with both of their unmarried parents, according to 2007 U.S. Census, in its first year tracking child-sharing living arrangements. About 5.6 million children of divorced parents live with their mothers and about 1.3 million children of divorced parents live with their fathers.

Instead of parents being at the mercy of a judge's ruling on support, a computer program spits out child support payment amounts. In most states, the court enters gross and net salaries or earning potential for non-working parents into the program along with the percent of time children spend with each parent. The program then calculates support without regard to needs, circumstances or gender.

Because of that, 55 percent of the AAML lawyers who were surveyed reported that more mothers have begun paying child support over the past five years than ever before. "The system has come around to saying women have the same obligation to support children as men do," Hennenhoefer says. In the case of the $10,000 gross monthly salary, that means about 10 percent per child in California, where Hennenhoefer practices law.

What do you think of these changes? How has divorce affected kids and parents that you know who have gone through it?

By Stacey Garfinkle |  October 21, 2008; 7:00 AM ET  | Category:  Family Finances
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Enforcement of Child support is still heavily lacking...
I live in Illinois which has a very strong dead beat parent policy...
We have a website which outs the pictures of the dead beats on the internet for all to see...
There are a few women on the site for skipping out on their share of support for their children..
I on the other hand have not gotten much help from the state..My ex with a 100 a week payment since 2001 has a IOU for my daughter of over 22,000 dollars.
I didn't pick the number...the court did not pick the ex did..and ever since then..we are lucky to see one check every other month for $60.00.. I wonder how many people could "survive" on $60.00 dollars a month in this economy..but I agree..Mothers who can ...SHOULD pay child support...

Posted by: goddesscon2001 | October 21, 2008 9:34 AM | Report abuse

My parents divorced when I was young; my two brothers and I lived with my mother full-time. Of course the court should have awarded child support payments to my mother (and did... that's not to say payments were actually made, however).

I have one child and am divorced from his father. We parent together, and our son lives in both our houses, splitting his time between them equally. We share our son's expenses in proportion to our income, and my ex pays a small amount of state-mandated child support because he makes more than I do; this child support goes into a 529 college fund which my ex controls, by mutual agreement.

Of course parents, regardless of gender, should support their children, and if that means the mother pays child support, so be it.

Posted by: owlice | October 21, 2008 9:48 AM | Report abuse

My parents divorced in like 79 or 80. We stayed with our father and my mother paid a small amount of child support. I have no idea if it was suggested by her, by my father or court mandated. This was in Canada so it might be different than what it was here in those times. My mother took her obligations seriously and that made me feel important to her even though we lived with my father.

My husband has two children from a prior relationship for which he pays child support. There is no court judgment so the amount he pays is voluntary. Until recently, this amount was insanely high - like 90% of his take home pay. When there was any issue like medical bills then it was coming out of my take-home pay. It was causing a lot of problems between us because I thought it was excessive and unreasonable for him to volunteer to pay that kind of money. And thanks for volunteering my take-home pay too.

Right as I was hitting the end of my rope, he got a new job making substantially more money and although the amount of money has stayed the same, the % in relationship to his salary dropped. We are more in line with what the state would mandate if there was a judgment.

Posted by: Billie_R | October 21, 2008 11:31 AM | Report abuse

I don't think in the year 2008, many people should argue that child support should be awarded regardless of gender.

Although I think the calculator figures seem quite low. 10% of net pay would not even cover infant day care. 10% of gross is a more accurate figure.

But my one beef is that they really need to look at individual cases. Day care for younger children costs more then before or after school care. Older children have more expensive clothes and food purchases. Does that include college educational support, after school activities, camp fees, out of pocket medical costs, additional children in the home etc... I think the child support should really be on a case to case basis.

As far as collection, I think they have gotten better but we still have a long way to go. Also it is based on salary. So if a person makes next to nothing, the support would barely be enough to sustain the child.

I don't know anyone personally who would share this information. I just listen to what is said on blogs and on TV. Still sounds as if the kids are not always adequately taken care of.

I also wonder how joint custody works this out.

Posted by: foamgnome | October 21, 2008 11:31 AM | Report abuse

Fortunately, I can't speak to this from personal experience. :-) But from watching my brother, my brother-in-law, and some friends go through this, there are still some issues.

- Aberrations in income can skew things. The year of the divorce, my brother was working a ton of overtime and making a lot of money. Child support was calculated based on the assumption that he always made that much money. His income went back to normal the following year, but it took about three years for the state of NC to believe that he didn't make the higher salary every year.

- What happens when the kids reach 18 is anybody's guess. In my brother's case, his oldest daughter was living with him when she turned 18. His ex-wife went to court to assert that there were no more valid expenses for her and she shouldn't count in the child support calculations. (Despite the fact that this was in the middle of her Senior year of high school.) The court agreed. On the other hand, my brother-in-law in GA was told he was responsible for his son's expenses because he lived at home while going to college.

On another note - Stacey, how many men really made $10,000 per month in 1993? That's $120,000 per year, so in 1993 you'd be talking about perhaps the top 1 or 2 percent of the people in the country. Is that really representative, or is it just an extreme example?

Posted by: ArmyBrat1 | October 21, 2008 11:56 AM | Report abuse

I think my child support agreement in principle was a good one. We agreed to share custody and the deal was he'd pay 60 percent of actual expenses and I'd pay 40 of actual expenses based on our relative incomes. I totalled daycare, medical co-pays, swim lessons etc each month and we split the cost 60/40 under our court agreement.

Trouble was that within a couple months of that agreement, he got sick, lost his job and was out of work or in marginal work for about two years and partly supported by his parents. I paid 100 percent of all kid-related costs though perhaps a court would have required some kind of payment from him if I went back to court (expensive proposition). I personally knew he was struggling with serious health issues and decided to leave it alone.

My advice to anyone contemplating divorce is to make sure you CAN afford to support kids on your own at some basic level. Otherwise the roller coaster of worry over whether the child support arrives on time or at all takes years off your life.

My ex is back on his feet now but his commuting time means he cannot take the kids during the week. Our salaries are now roughly commenserate so we split 50/50 the actual expenses but I still get stuck with the higher food costs because they're with me six out of seven days per week.

I just can't stress too much about it really. Heck I'm just glad they have their Dad at all after what he's been through. The kids and I have what we need and life circumstances seem to change faster than court appearances can be scheduled and I've already wasted too much money on lawyers!

Posted by: annenh | October 21, 2008 12:12 PM | Report abuse

Basic human rights in divorce have yet to be discovered. But like equality among the races and genders, the rights are right before our eyes -- however obscure.

No one has the right to keep any law abiding parent from living in the same home as their child. And a child has the right of living with its parents and without outsiders.

When these human rights are discovered, children will be given the right to have one home. Each parent will choose how often they choose to stay in the home. And nothing will inhibit them being there at the same time.

Divorce apologists will make up tales of psychological strain. But such details are like the old drawings of African humans as apes, or old depictions of women as frail beings. They are folklore based on current culture.

As a practical matter, keeping the old house, and having Mom and Dad arrange their private matters outside the house is the next best thing to having Mom and Dad married.

Posted by: tdn0024 | October 21, 2008 12:44 PM | Report abuse

"Our salaries are now roughly commenserate so we split 50/50 the actual expenses but I still get stuck with the higher food costs because they're with me six out of seven days per week."

Why isn't food part of "actual expenses"?

Posted by: dennis5 | October 21, 2008 12:48 PM | Report abuse

The post about a dad who pays more than 90% of his pay is a clear lie. No court would mandate such a thing and I note with interest it is the new wife complaining. She would benefit the most from the dad keeping more of his pay, hardly an objective party.
A child receiving 10% his his or her dad's pay (or mom if she is out of the house) is a sad sight indeed. My daughter is awarded this, and there is no leeway for raising it - will be the same at 18 as it was at age 10. Need extraordinary expenses, not just inflation, in the state where we divorced.
He drafted a budget that showed his lexus payment, gas and maintenance and car insurance totaled more than he sends this child. He has had her to is house once this year, for five nights. Oh, and wants her as a tax write-off to further reduce his obligation.
I believe in karma and would not want to be the one catching that rebound...I support and love her and always will.

Posted by: OrlandoNan | October 21, 2008 12:56 PM | Report abuse

Why isn't food part of "actual expenses"? Posted by: dennis5 | October 21, 2008 12:48 PM

Because the original agreement had us splitting time with the kids equally so we'd presumably be feeding them equally. Same logic applied to other household expenses since we were both maintaining living spaces that accounted for the children. But the new job means he can't feed them dinner or breakfast most days and I haven't tried to add that as a category of expenses that we split (and it'd be a bit of a challenge to divide out what they eat versus what I eat anyway). With food prices going up, perhaps I should reconsider but like I said, our needs are met so I haven't bothered.

Posted by: annenh | October 21, 2008 1:12 PM | Report abuse

I am glad to see child support obligations more equally assigned to the parents based on income, and their respective time with the children. Unfortunatley, it is not this way in my state (NH), where the child support calculator does not consider parenting time, but just who has primary custody, and parent finances. In my case, I have joint physical and legal custody, and have the kids 50% of the time. I make more than my ex, but I am required to pay almost the full amount of child support (i.e. as if I had not parenting time), which is killing me financially, and leaves very little to have a life with the kids, which is an important part of being a dad. We live in a nice area with lots of outdoor recreation activities, but we can do little because there is nothing left. My ex has a lot more growth opportunity in her employment sector (I am maxed out), but this is not considered in the calculus. I have entered our current financial and parenting time info into calculators on other states' websites with similiar median incomes (VA, MD), and their calculations would have me paying $300-600 less per month, all things considered. I would gladly pay the full amount if I could afford it, but sadly it is not the case. Our legislature looked into this once, but its efforts were squashed by the "mom lobby". My advice to couples with children that are unfortunately in a rocky relationship, and may be relocating for one reason or the other to another state--be careful, and check the state laws for the state you are moving to--the calculators on HHS websites are insightful as to how your life and those of your kids could be affected for years to come.

Posted by: rokdoc85 | October 21, 2008 1:12 PM | Report abuse

Sorry, OrlandoNan, Billie R is legit (well, as much as anyone can be in an anonymous forum) -- she has a long history here and on OB, and as she has explained several times, it was not court-mandated, and the money was wrapped up in a bunch of other stuff going on with the ex.

I think it's a good thing that the courts are being more egalitarian now. It should be about the best interest of the kid -- and absent other factors like abuse, that should include as much time as possible with each parent, and no huge cut in the standard of living if that is possible. If my husband and I got divorced (God forbid), I would fully expect to pay at least half of our kids' expenses, and to share custody. He's a good man and a good dad, and it wouldn't be fair to them if I tried to limit his involvement.

Posted by: laura33 | October 21, 2008 1:15 PM | Report abuse

NH in no way requires you to stick to a child support calculator when there is shared custody. I think my agreement is evidence of that. I'm not convinced you are telling the entire truth and your condemnation of the nonexistant "mom lobby" in this state is evidence to me of some serious bias on your part.

Posted by: annenh | October 21, 2008 1:40 PM | Report abuse

Here it the real story. With the breaking of the social contract of husband working/wife home with kids, a new dynamic is here but un- or under-stated. You need to be prepared to take total care of your self and your offspring. You can't depend on the other parent of the child, the courts or anyone else.

You, as an individual, should think long and hard before becoming responsible for another life brought into this world. You should prepare for the day that no one but you will support your child (ren) and yourself. It is as simple as that.

Posted by: nonamehere | October 21, 2008 2:07 PM | Report abuse

The main problem with divorce is that it is expensive. After a divorce, you have to finance two households when you used to only have to provide one. So for most people, divorce is too expensive. It would be cheaper to go to marriage counseling, work it out, or have an affair.

Posted by: foamgnome | October 21, 2008 2:30 PM | Report abuse

There is another side to this story:
My husband has to pay child support and both sides are happy with the arrangement. The pay has always just been an automatic deduction form his paychecks. In the cases where he has been between jobs at any time or he has switched jobs and it has taken them some time to set it up to take out of his pay at a new place of employment, the remaining amount is billed at the end of the year or taken from any tax refund. The mother is and has always been on welfare, so the child doesn't get the money anyway, it goes directly to the state, so thats why its set up this way.

The problem came when she moved with the kid to a different state. Then my husband moved from vA into DC to be with me. This means that by now 3 states are all claiming the same child support for the same kid. DC and VA both deduct from his paychecks the same amount even. Then neither of these states appears to be passing it off to the state the child lives in apparently, because then they take our tax refund each year, including the stimulus check. Plus these states all claim back pay since they don't share information with each other (like that the tax refund was collected etc.) so he has claims on his credit report for all 3 states. Which doesn't make any sense at all that what is essentially the same charge can be claimed on your creidt report as 3 separate ones. So for example if he owed $2,000, it would look like $6,000 on his credit report. For this reason, I am the sole holder of our mortgage/owner of our home. Because we cannot work it out at all. The state the child lives in told us we were right, they would send us our stimulus check back - 6 months later still waiting. the people in VA just keep sending messages to your case worker who never calls you back, so then they send messages to her supervisor, who also never calls you back. They also don't communicate with my husband's employer who has tried to talk to them about why they must deduct 2 child support payments from his check. Then the phone system in DC has been broken for over a year and a half, so we only have a direct line to the case worker, who never returns calls and now appears to no longer be there because there is no voice mail at the number anymore.

So there seems to be nothing we can do except pay 3 child support payments until he is 18, or face the damage to our credit and never get a tax refund again. Which is a frightening thought considering the $5,000 tax credit I should be getting this year for purchasing a home in DC. We cannot afford a lawyer for this either. Apparently there is no way to make the child support system do their job.

Posted by: EAR0614 | October 21, 2008 2:52 PM | Report abuse

"Here it the real story. With the breaking of the social contract of husband working/wife home with kids, a new dynamic is here but un- or under-stated. You need to be prepared to take total care of your self and your offspring."

That dynamic has always been there. Even when divorce was not possible. Perhaps it was not stated explicitly as a possibility, but it has always existed. Parents have abandoned their homes and children for centuries. The difference is that now, we explicitly state the possibility of this happening, and there are legal remedies for it.

Posted by: emily8 | October 21, 2008 2:59 PM | Report abuse

I am adivorced father of two who paid 45% of my income at the time that the child support order was issued and just recently completed all of my obligations to that order after paying it since October of 1990. At no time was it my obligation to pay for college for the both of them through the court order, yet I hear all the time from custodial parents who think it is. They should note that the custody laws in MD mandate payment only until the child is 18.

Oh, and yes, I'll say it: My ex promised me for years that she was putting money aside for the children's college expenses. Funny how that money disappeared when her and her new husband bought a house. Now the kids are coming to me asking for college money. Let's see the courts handle this one - an ex-spouse commits fraud and leaves her children hanging for college money because she wanted a house. Funny that as the non-custodial parent that I did not have the option of just not paying the support, yet she has effectively stolen the money from my sons.

Posted by: rapier100 | October 21, 2008 3:33 PM | Report abuse

Sorry, Rapier, that's not fraud, unless there was some written order somewhere that your ex-spouse was supposed to be saving money for college. I doubt that was the case.

Posted by: emily8 | October 21, 2008 3:59 PM | Report abuse

Gods, some of thes stories make me so sad for the kids. A friend of DH's is in similar messed-up situation with his ex and their son. Somehow, it appears that the ex thought that divorcing him would solve all her financial problems. The problems were because his employer went out of business, and he couldn't find another high-paying technical job - all the company's competitors were out-of-state or outside the country - and he ended up doing whatever he could, like delivering pizzas for $10/hour. Craziness!

If DH and I were ever to part company (we've been through pretty much everything! - and we're still together and still love each other, so it's not likely) the first priority for both of us would be the boys. They'd stay in the house, and so would DH since he's always been the SAHP, and that would be least disruptive for them.

I'd be paying the mortgage (house is in my name only, because my credit was better and I got a lower interest rate without him) and child support, and probably alimony too for a while. That wouldn't leave much for me to live on... But better for me to be struggling to make ends meet, than for the boys to be out in the cold.

That's just how I'd do it - the lawyers and judge(s) would be handed a settlement agreement that was in the kids' best interests, and their changing it wouldn't change my own sense of moral responsibility.

Posted by: SueMc | October 21, 2008 4:11 PM | Report abuse

There is no reason why women making more competitive salaries now, should not pay the equivalent amount of money a man would have to pay. I received full custody of my 7 year old daughter after my ex was found to be ruining my daughters life through emotional abuse,neglect and parental alienation. After the divorce, it was agreed I could seek child support after 2 years, letting her get "back on her feet". But, if I was entitled to a million dollars a month, I would not pursue it. Nothing is worth that. My ex abandoned my daughter completely for the past 3 years, so I want no contact with her.

Posted by: hchattaway1 | October 21, 2008 4:34 PM | Report abuse

I am in IL. My ex-husband left the state and never paid child support (or alimony, for that matter). After fourteen years as a single mother raising several children with no support nor assistance, I remarried.

By court order, my current husband pays exactly half of his net income to his ex-wife and child, plus $500/mo in health care coverage for his daughter, who also has full health care coverage provided by the state. His ex-wife, who refuses to work, also receives supplemental income and health care from the government. Neither our children nor I have health care coverage, as we can't afford it.

My husband has never missed a child support nor alimony payment. He often observes: "If you try to be a decent person and do the responsible thing, in our society, you are certain to be screwed by the law."

We are happy, though, and I guess that's worth something!

Posted by: commentie | October 21, 2008 6:05 PM | Report abuse

So I'm a divorced father and have a bunch of friends (male and female) who are also divorced.

As best I can tell, I've got the best deal: 50/50 custody (alternating weeks) and I pay a modest amount of child support (used to also pay childcare costs but he's outgrown that).

What I see from my friends that the article is half right -- the courts now simply punch income into a computer program. But the courts resist imputing income (e.g. one parent isn't working -- OK, they get $0 income into the computer rather than a kick in the pants to at least get a minimum wage job). Also, the disparity in awarding custody is appalling -- I've seen fathers whom I know were MORE involved in their kids' life being given the alternate weekend deal simply because they were not "Mom".

Until we get to the world where the default is 50/50 custody and parents pay child support according to proportions of income, we're not in equality land. (BTW, I'm not saying all cases should end up 50/50 -- but what I've seen suggests that if that was the starting point, most kids would be better off).

Posted by: WilsonHSgrad | October 21, 2008 6:15 PM | Report abuse

My DH's daughter was removed by the state from her mother's custody due to repeated physical abuse. She was a vice-president of a bank and a real estate broker at the time. When the courts awarded him child support, the next day she walked off her job claiming "disability". She got it AND the state sent her to rehab AND put her through a Master's degree program in Psychology AND reduced her child support down to practically nothing. She continues to live in her multi-million dollar home, drive a new convertible and live a life of luxury while her daughter wears second-hand clothes and work so she can afford things like her own iPod, cell phone and computer. Her father was taken to the cleaners and lost his business when his ex-wife dumped him after a serious injury. We get by, but I've completely lost my faith in the legal system and human decency.

Posted by: paintedhandfarm | October 21, 2008 6:49 PM | Report abuse

I think that Children should go with the parent who is best suited to raise the child regardless of gender.

The child support rulings that subsidize the other spouses lifestyle is in need of revamping.

Posted by: Juked | October 21, 2008 10:48 PM | Report abuse

At least in Montgomery Co. MD, the court is seemingly ignorant of the issues involved in assignment of both child support values and proportions (i.e. doesn't take into account income to a parent that isn't taxable by the IRS) AND the assignment of custody. Even when the court is made aware that a parent is giving custodial children prescribed drugs above the prescribed dosage, recently Montgomery Co. Circuit Court judge stated he "needed to see the bodies or blood to verify the children are in imminent danger" before taking action. Thank goodness these guys don't screw around when it comes to ensuring safety of children.

Posted by: me17 | October 21, 2008 11:24 PM | Report abuse

Well it is so nice to see that equality has arrived for child support. Will be even better when it hits on the pay rate for women verses men. This matters as that rate of pay is still off, by nearly 30 cents to the dollar, why not adjust the child support payments via gender? Now seriously I know that is not "right" however how wrong is it to be equal on this and not else where for a single mom?

I know I did it. My first husband did not work and was a stay at home dad. When we divorced, I picked up the tab for his new house and such so I could keep the kids and the family home. It just seems so interesting to me that child care payments can be made equal so quickly opposed to equal pay....

Posted by: DigitalDame | October 21, 2008 11:26 PM | Report abuse

Regarding gender bias and child support - it should be gender neutral. And for gosh sakes, if you know/meet a non-custodial mom, treat them with the same respect that you would a non-custodial dad!

For the person who had child support deducted by 2 states and DC. The next path (with all of your hard work getting this straightened out) is WRITE to these folks. First write to known case workers, then to their supervisors, then get on the Internet and find out who the vendor is that is handling Child Support Enforcement, and write to them as well. Another option is to write to your elected officials because their programs are not working well. The goal of their program is not to overfeed on your spouse's income.

My son's CSE case was in Baltimore City. And while I haven't had the same "been there", I have walked what I am talking.

Lastly, college expenses and child support. NH held that it would be holding divorced parents to a higher standard if they insisted that college expenses be covered as child support, so in NH divorced parents cannot be forced to pay college tuition. There was also a Supreme Court case recently that said college education is not a right, even if you have a really REALLY smart kiddo that exhausts all of his/her options through the public school system. The "state" is only responsible for K-12.

I'm not sure who will read this at this late hour, but that's some of what I've learned about child support, your mileage may vary.

Posted by: slazar | October 22, 2008 10:36 AM | Report abuse

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