August 2, 2014 by: John M Clapp, Chair, Shared Parenting Council of Connecticut
and Executive Committee Member, National Parents Organization of Connecticut
The views stated here are those of the author, not of any government agency.
This conference focused on the relationship between child support and effective parenting. It emphasized the importance of co-parenting and of father involvement with their children. The judicial branch, Support Enforcement Services (Charisse Hutton) and Family Support Magistrates Division (Norma Sanchez- Figueroa) emphasized the importance of parental involvement and the negative influence of excessive support orders.
Many attendees were from Connecticut Department of Social Services. Bureau of Child Support Enforcement was the best represented group.
- Others were from nonprofit organizations related tdivorce and child support.
- Examples: Madonna Place in Norwich. CT Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
Major Themes of the Conference:
- The damage caused by absence of one parent, typically the father. Nationwide, 25% of children now live only with their mother.
- The keynote speaker was Vicki Turetski, Commissioner, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Office of Child Support Enforcement
- She emphasized that regular child support payments increase with parental involvement.
- She lauded the Fatherhood Initiative, a federal program that began in 2000.
- Ms. Turetsky pointed tfive factors increasing regular payment of child support.
- Right sized orders for child support, which she placed at 15-20% of income. She pointed out that, if orders are tolarge, the payor gets discouraged.
- Debt reduction - programs that reduce massive arrearages. Participants in these programs get reductions in debt in return for regular payment of current child support.
- Family income. Excessive support orders and arrearages are most likely toccur when both parents earn low incomes.
- Parenting time. Noncustodial parents with more parenting time are more likely tpay child support.
- Employment programs increase child support payments.
- A broader concept of child support has been tested in several forums.
- On tribal lands, in-kind payments (e.g., firewood, or fresh fish) can be counted towards child support.
- Child care provided by a NCP is counted as child support in some pilot programs.
- Implications of domestic violence for parenting time and financial support
- Liza Andrews, CT Coalition Against Domestic Violence, stated that domestic violence — control, coercion — does not always simply cease when twintimate partners decide tseparate. This is particularly true when they must attempt co-parenting.
- Co-parenting can be successful even when there is past abuse. However, successful co-parenting requires that the abusive individual has chosen taddress and stop his or her abusive behavior.
- Parent involvement was promoted as more important than child support.
- Incarceration is a very high cost option that leaves the children without regular financial support and with limited access tthe jailed parent.
- Charisse Hutton outlined new procedures thelp incarcerated parents get reductions in support payments, thereby avoiding the buildup of arrearages.
- Co-parenting techniques include familiar objects and routines shared by both households.
- David Mulligan, Director, Bureau of Child Support Enforcement discussed CT’s Commission on Child Support Guidelines.
- The Commission has been meeting for 4.5 years and it still has not adopted new Guidelines. Current Guidelines are from 2005.
- The Commission funded an economic study as the basis for new child support Guidelines. It was completed June 5, 2012 by Jane Venohr, PhD, Center for Policy Research (CPR), Denver, Colorado.
- The CPR Commission study recommended lowering Guideline percentages for low income obligors and raising them for higher income.
- The Commission recommended accepting the part of the CPR study that increases percentages, but rejected lowering Guidelines for low income obligors.
- Mr. Mulligan pointed out that this is detrimental tchild wellbeing and tfather involvement.
Brief Summary of Conference Themes
The themes of the conference centered on the connection between parental involvement and financial support for children living with one parent. Even in cases with past domestic violence, a structured program and a commitment tchange behavior can lead tsuccessful co-parenting. There was general agreement that parental time and decision making responsibility are at least as important as child support dollars. The dollars can interfere with parental involvement when support orders are unrealistic or when arrearages build up due tillness, unemployment of incarceration. The conference proposed specific remedies such as in-kind child support payments and easy ways treduce support orders after illness or unemployment. Child Support Guidelines in Connecticut are unrealistic at low income levels, but currently the Commission has failed tappreciate the damage this does.
John Clapp’s conclusions with respect troot causes of excessively high child support orders
The root cause of the problem addressed by the Conference is, in my opinion, the economic studies used tjustify excessively high support orders. The studies are flawed in many ways, including: 1) The assumption that percentages should be based on an intact family; 2) the assumption that only one parent, the “custodial parent,” is capable of making financial decisions on behalf of children.
A 2013 economic study by Sarrand Rogers provides some new thinking and new data. See: Mark A. Sarrand R. Mark Rogers, “Economic Review of the Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines,” submitted tthe Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines Task Force (June, 2013). Here are some key points from that study:
- “Most states base their child support guidelines, tsome extent, on specific economic studies. However, the most widely used studies dnot measure actual direct spending on children and are based on national data. Most child costs are not directly observable, but rather are indirect costs shared by adults and children in a household, such as housing and food. Therefore, the available economic data are estimates with theoretical and practical limitations, and the resulting child cost estimates are informative and important tconsider, but they are not determinative.” p 1
- “There simply is not a definitive source of data tdictate whether the resulting Guidelines amounts are right or wrong with certainty and in every case. This is why presumptive awards are rebuttable, based on case specific facts that diverge from presumptive facts. The rest of this report summarizes the economic principles, approaches, and most current data available thelp inform the Task Force’s review of the current Guidelines.” p. 13
- Income Shares estimates, such as the Betson-Rothbarth amounts, alsrely on data from intact (specifically, husband-wife) households tinform policy decisions for households which are not intact. These guideline models implicitly assume economic decisions are made the same way for separate households as for married households, when, in fact, the economic tradeoffs may be very different. One obvious difference is the additional overhead cost required by twseparate households relative tthe cost of a single household. By failing taccount for this additional cost, economic models likely overestimate the standard of living of a non-intact household at a given income level. Maintaining a standard of living estimated based on intact household data likely requires more income than is actually available ta non-intact household.” pp 19-20. Sarrand Rogers show that shared parenting implies higher fixed costs associated with maintaining twhouseholds, and that intact families would adjust tsuch costs.
- Sarrand Rogers (2013) produce detailed data — based on a large random sampling of support orders from several districts within Massachusetts — showing that a large percentage of couples agree tamounts far below Guidelines. These new data raise questions: why any state adopts Guidelines that many consider unreasonable? Why is only one parent presumed tbe competent tmake spending decisions on behalf of children?
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