Having previously worked in the child support field -- both in policy and case work -- my eyes were opened early on as to the sheer number of fathers (and sometimes mothers) who, sadly and for a multitude of reasons, choose not to be in their child's life.
I recall my first week on the job, talking to a father about his child support payment calculation. When he realized that custody/visitation is one of the factors determining the amount of one's child support payment, he took pause. And grinned.
"So, you mean, if I have my son more often, the amount I pay monthly will go down?"
Naively, I was completely stunned.
Sure enough, within a few days, he had spoken with the boy's mother and negotiated more time to be spent with the child.
One might argue that it's a positive outcome -- the boy now gets increased time with his father. Sure, if the father really craves that close relationship and is excited to forge the parent-child bond, it's wonderful. But if his intentions are about the desire for the reduced child support payment, that is stomach-churning. If custody and time with the child was truly what the father wanted within his heart, he would have had that arrangement initially, not upon the discovery of the financial benefit it provided him. The newfound "time" spent together -- would it really be quality time between parent and child?
It was my first glimpse of someone tying their finances to their decision to have or not have their child with them. I always had assumed that the reverse is true- you want to have your child with you, the financial aspect follows accordingly. The other way around seems callous and without any concern for the child's needs. As I said, I was naïve. Working in child support, however, I saw this phenomenon in varying levels and under all different types of circumstances. And I never got used to it. To those parents who were more concerned about the payments, the child was seen as a commodity.
I recognize the government's reasons behind equating one's increased custody/visitation to paying out less. This is because, of course, when a child is in one's custody more money is spent (food, diapers, activities, etc.). I also understand that, of course, money is a huge factor in our lives and is absolutely a consideration in choices we make. We all have a certain amount coming in and need to live within the confines of our budget. And particularly, when financial security is far from achieved, we do what it takes to ensure there is enough money to pay the bills -- people work extra hours, bargain shop, and often go without. Cutting corners is frequently a necessity.
But to determine how much time you choose to spend with your child as a factor in your bookkeeping?
I know it's far from a perfect world and that there are endless circumstances which make custody not possible in many different situations. Some parents withhold custody from the other. Some have work-related restrictions preventing realistic visitation. But those aren't the cases I'm addressing. The disconnect for me is the mind-blowing concept of correlating dollar signs with time spent with one's own child and choosing to have more custody solely in order to pay out less to the other parent. To make that leap cheapens the relationship. A price cannot be put on the child or the bond as the parent-child relationship is priceless.
I'm aware I'm aiming for the ideal. But doesn't every child deserve, at the very least, to have his/her parents aim for the ideal? To be wanted as the offspring he/she is, not for what he/she brings to the table financially.
Fortunately, those who base their visitation decision on finances are in the minority. Most parents I met had every concern for their children and were often heartbroken over the circumstances under which they were visiting the child support office. Most people genuinely wanted to be with their children for the reasons of bonding, love, and family.
I know I have much to be grateful for and I am. Every day. Although I am a single mom not by choice, I am fortunate my daughters' dad chooses to be involved, loving, and active in their lives. He could not be a better father and, for that, I am one of the lucky moms. The beneficiaries of the choice of custody/visitation-- specifically for the sake of wanting the children, not for any monetary compensation -- are all of the parties involved.