August 24, 2014 by Robert Franklin, Esq.
It’s always nice to see academia finally catching up with this blog. Admittedly, it doesn’t happen often, but in this case it has (Marketwired, 8/22/14). The link is to a press release for this report by Canada’s Fraser Institute that’s gotten around to analyzing that country’s child support laws and, precisely as the National Parents Organization did last year, found them discriminatory and at odds with economic reality (Fraser Institute, 8/14). Here’s the NPO post by the excellent Lucian Khodeir who’s likely forgotten more about Canadian child support laws than the Fraser Institute knows (NPO, 3/21/13).
Still, as I said, it’s good to see the academics admitting the truth – that Canada’s child support guidelines need to be scrapped and another set established that are based on the realities lived by custodial and non-custodial parents.
The federal guidelines mandating child support payments in divorce cases in Canada fail to equitably distribute costs between parents (as per the Divorce Act) and are not supported by economic evidence, concludes a new study published today by the Fraser Institute, an independent, non-partisan Canadian public policy think-tank.
"The guidelines in Canada focus solely on the income of the non-custodial parent and explicitly ignore circumstances that intact families get to consider, such as government child benefits, age of the child, decisions on extraordinary expenses, and family financial constraints," said Christopher Sarlo, economics professor at Nipissing University and Fraser Institute senior fellow.
"The guidelines also ignore all non-custodial parenting costs, any new partners of the parents, and most importantly, the fact that children are not just costs. Consequently, the formula overcompensates most custodial parents for child-rearing costs."
That’s not a direct quotation from Khodeir’s NPO piece, but the basic concepts are there. Simply put, the Canadian system of child support doesn’t make sense. Most importantly, it assumes that children spend all their time with the custodial parent and none with the non-custodial one. Based on that utterly false and unnecessary assumption, the guidelines go on to assume that the non-custodial parent spends nothing on the child apart from what he pays the mother.
I use those gendered terms advisedly. In Canada, 90% of custodial parents are mothers and of course 90% of non-custodial ones are fathers.
The unsurprising result of the guidelines’ flawed approach is that fathers are ordered to pay far too much in child support.
[C]hild support payments are based on an equation that leaves many non-custodial parents paying an inordinately high amount of child support, which grows as incomes increase.
The study also notes how the majority of non-custodial parents are men and cites a Department of Justice report that found, in contested cases, courts award custody of children to mothers 90 per cent of the time.
Adding to this inequity, the guidelines assume that a mother, when awarded custody, has the child 100 per cent of the time. But of course, this is seldom the case. Non-custodial fathers often care for children (on weekends, for example) and the child-rearing costs they pay during those times are ignored.
Those fathers, having been ordered to pay more than they can, then fall behind and the full weight of the state comes down on them, landing no few of them in jail. The press, always eager to hit a man when he’s down, pile on to call those men “deadbeats” without the slightest understanding of how they came to be where they are. With all the acrimony aimed at their dads, children often adopt the false narrative of the “deadbeat dad” as their own, believing their fathers don’t care enough about them to pay what they owe.
It’s a sorry situation and one that can only have been planned. After all, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that, if we want to be fair about assessing child support and accurate in the amounts ordered, we need to make assumptions that bear as much relation to the realities of the matter as we can. And when one parent has the kids 20% of the time, it’s a fair assumption that he spends 20% of the cost of raising them. That’s a concept simple enough for a 10-year-old, but it eluded the Canadian Parliament and the Department of Justice and continues to do so.
Remarkably, as the Fraser Institute study says, those guidelines were not when they were promulgated, and still aren’t based on any economic research or data.
"With a divorce rate close to 40 per cent and 70,000 divorces every year, these issues should cause political leaders and policy-makers substantial concern. We have a mandatory set of rules impacting hundreds of thousands of Canadian families that are not based on any economic studies on the cost of raising children," Sarlo said.
How strange that something as common and far-reaching as child support policy should be based on nothing. In fact, as many have long pointed out, the purpose of the child support guidelines both in Canada and the U.S. is to counteract a wholly imaginary blow to mother’s earnings post-divorce. Back in the 80s, feminist Lenore Weizman crunched some figures and came out with the astonishing claim that mothers who divorce lose 74% of their standard of living in the process.
Now, that figure never passed the smell test. It beggars belief that women, who make up 70% of those filing for divorce, would do so if their pocketbooks absorbed such a devastating financial blow. So other researchers, equally astonished, sought to replicate her outcome and repeatedly failed. So they started dunning Weizman for her research in the hopes of finding who’d gone wrong.
For a decade (a decade!) Weizman simply refused to share her data with other academics. And well she might have. Those other researchers, like Arizona State University’s Sanford Braver, figured out where she’d gone off the rails. The actual figure for mothers’ loss of earnings was 26%, i.e. the difference between 100% and Weizman’s much ballyhooed figure of 74%. Weizman had simply looked at the wrong figure on her printout.
The 24% difference is still significant of course, but it bears an uncanny resemblance to the gap in earnings between men and women generally – the infamous Wage Gap – that’s well known to eventuate, not from discrimination, but from the fact that women work fewer hours than do men and tend to work at lower paying jobs. The strong suggestion is that mothers incur no divorce discount in their earnings at all.
But, radical feminist that she was, Weizman liked the higher figure, so she simply stuck with it, refusing for 10 years to admit her error. She eventually did, but by then it was too late – much too late. Despite the fact that the rest of academia knew her data to completely misrepresent the facts, policy-makers and the press glommed onto Weizman’s 74%, repeating it ad infinitum and eventually enacting laws based on the notion that mothers suffer a terrible financial blow when they divorce. It was wrong then, it’s wrong now and Parliament should do something about it. Everyone would be helped in the process, but I suspect the Fraser Institute study will go the way of those of Braver and others; it fails to support misandric policies and therefore must be shoved to the sidelines and completely ignored.
"The guidelines fundamentally violate their own stated objectives, leave little or no room for custodial parents to provide financial support for their own children, and are not consistent with the guidance provided by the Divorce Act. The real concern, of course, is the adverse impact of the guidelines on divorce, marriage and procreation."
In short, there’s nothing to recommend the guidelines except their massive benefit to mothers who divorce. For that reason, I suspect they’ll remain in place for a long time to come. During that time of course office holders will take to the stump to hymn the wonders of the intact families they’re doing so much to destroy. Canada’s child support guidelines constitute a powerful financial incentive to women with children to break up their families. That’s happening at an alarming rate and has been for all the time the guidelines have been in effect.
If Canada’s politicians really care about families and kids, they’ll deep-six those guidelines and start over. I’m not holding my breath.
National Parents Organization is a Shared Parenting Organization
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