Michael looked at me with a stunned glare. I re-ran the child support calculations again. After some (but not all) of his taxes were considered, the calculator showed the same number, 25 percent of his income for child support. "I knew I was going to pay; I just didn't know it was going to be that much!"
Primary bread-winners repeat after me: you agreed to pay the bills during the marriage and you are stuck paying after the divorce.
Many times, the amount isn't unfair, but rather the fact that you are forced to pay an ex-spouse (who probably gave you some emotional scars). And, on top of that, you have no ability to control how that money is spent (or if that money is even spent on the child -- or her endless shoe collection).
But, what does it cost to raise a child? Last year, the US Department of Agriculture reported that the cost from birth to age 18 was $234,900.00. The figure was in terms of 2011 dollars for two middle-income parents (earning between $59,410 and $102,870 a year) raising a child in a two-child family. See Expenditures on Children by Families report.
Odds are high that the number is only going up. The report suggests that the largest expenditure is housing (about $70,560 or 30 percent of the total cost). The other expenses breakdown into childcare and education (18 percent), food (16 percent), transportation (14 percent), healthcare (8 percent), clothing (6 percent), and miscellaneous (8 percent).
In New York--as in a few other states--there is a child support statute that includes payment "guidelines." The payor will pay roughly 17 percent of their income for one child. If you are earning $76,800 a year, that puts you at a child support obligation of $13,056 annually ($1,088/month). This number is fairly consistent with the federal number that you will pay $234,900.00 annually to age 18 (or $1,087.50/month) for one child.
Of course New York differs from other states because our incomes are generally higher, but child support runs three years longer here (until the kid is 21 years old). Those factors may equal out. Other states have far more flexible child support schemes that may actually require the payor to pay less than the federal average.
Perhaps then, this is money you were going to spend on the child anyway, it just wasn't as "in your face" as writing a check to your ex-spouse.
The reasoning behind paying is also fair: childcare is expensive and child-rearing is tedious. Even today women still face a pay-gap, glass-ceiling, mommy-track, and career set-backs for emergency child-doctor appointments, sick-days, and general interferences that can come with bearing the title "Mom."
The math is fair. The logic is sound. But the practical application still causes you grief. You are writing a check to someone and you have no ability to control how the money is spent or if it is even spent on your child -- the most common complaint I hear about the child support laws. And, if you fail to meet the obligation to pay, you face possible jail time as a punishment.
But back to my client "Michael," sitting in my office. The good news was that his children were older, limiting the number of years he was facing. The bad news? "What about joint custody? If we share the kids equally, then I don't pay right?" Wrong. In New York, as in several other states, the law spells out that even in equal-time parenting situation, the "monied-spouse" still pays! I probably don't need to mention that usually the "monied-spouse" is male.
Of course, an equal time-split may be a factor for a support magistrate to consider deviating from the state's child support guidelines, but some magistrates are hard to convince. Maybe magistrates get a little jaded, after all no one walks into a child support hearing and says "Judge, I make plenty of money -- hit me with as much as you can!"
Still, having greater time with the children and a lower child support payment might help equalize that feeling that you are paying with no control -- after all, time with them is priceless.
What do you think? Are there any creative solutions to reconcile how the law is applied in real terms? Tell me your ideas in the comments.
This blog originally appeared on The Good Men Project.