NPO publishes blog articles to inform and to stimulate conversation about issues of importance to NPO's mission.  All blog articles express the opinions of the authors as individuals and do not necessarily reflect the views of National Parents Organization, its Board of Directors, or its executives.  

October 19, 2015 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

We’re told, with some regularity, about the importance of child support. Children need support, parents must do the job and anyone who fails to do so is a “deadbeat.” Well, not everyone. “Deadbeat” is a term reserved almost exclusively for non-custodial fathers. Very occasionally I’ve seen the term “deadbeat parents,” but almost never “deadbeat mom.”

That’s true despite the fact that non-custodial mothers are significantly worse about paying what they owe than are non-custodial fathers. In the United States, the Bureau of the Census reports that about 54% of non-custodial fathers are subjects of child support orders issued by courts. On average, they’re required to pay $6,100 per year in child support and actually pay about $3,900 or 64% of what they owe. By contrast, only 28.8% of non-custodial mothers are required to pay child support pursuant to court orders. They’re ordered to pay $5,500 per month, actually pay about $3,000, which is 54% of what they owe.

I’ve often wondered why so few non-custodial mothers are the subjects of court-issued child support orders, and I have no certain answer. My guess is that, with so few fathers getting primary custody of their kids, those that do probably tend to have ex-wives who are uniquely bad mothers. Those mothers probably tend to be in prison, addicted to drugs or alcohol, have a proven history of child abuse or mental disorders. Given that, fathers who get custody often understand that getting money from Mom is impossible, so they don’t even ask for a child support order. Again, I don’t know for certain, but that’s my best guess.

If I’m right, that would mean that the remaining non-custodial mothers who are ordered to pay support would tend to be the cream of the non-custodial mother crop. And if that’s true, you’d expect them to be better at paying than the average NC dad. But they’re not.

Of course the whole Rube Goldberg apparatus that is our child support system is made necessary by our dysfunctional courts and laws that all but demand radically unequal parenting times between mothers and fathers. Equal parenting would make child support much easier to figure and, in many cases would make it unnecessary. We could just assume that, when the child is with Mom, she bore the same expenses as when the child is with Dad. Extraordinary and one-time expenses could be divided equally.

That could vastly reduce the amount of state and federal bureaucracies that have grown up solely for the collection and disbursement of child support. The federal government alone spends $5 billion per year on child support enforcement, much of which goes to reimburse states. But the 50 states also bear unreimbursed costs. So just how much it costs this country simply to transfer money every two weeks or so from non-custodial parents to custodial parents is a mystery, at least to me. But suffice it to say, it’s a lot.

Which brings us to this article out of Australia (Canberra Times, 10/18/15). It seems that the country’s Child Support Agency has already spent some $100,000 in lawyers’ fees trying to force a Western Australian Dad to pay about $16,000 he owes his ex in child support. Now, that’s a lot of money spent trying to collect a much smaller amount, but, if that’s what it takes to get the money paid, surely it’s worth it, right?

Perhaps so, but there’s one little matter I left out of my description of the case; the father’s already paid $17,000 to his daughters. No one seems to question the fact that he made the payments, but the CSA is suing him anyway. Why?

The Child Support Agency launched a court case against a man who had just lavished more than $17,000 on his daughters because the money did not flow through the federal government agency.

The father "who simply could not say no" to his children was sued for $16,000 with taxpayers footing the bill for two barristers and high-end legal firm Minter-Ellison, despite the CSA's knowledge that the money had been handed directly to the children.

Now the man, who spent the money on university fees, books, a laptop, a car, clothes and "significant costs" for horses, vets' bills, polo crosse and medical expenses for his two daughters, is facing bailiff's action as the agency resorts to tough tactics to get what it says it is owed.

Yes, his daughters seem to be in college and he spent the money on exactly the type of things that, if they’d been living with their mother, she might well have spent it on. But because he didn’t send it first to the CSA who then sent it to the mother, Dad’s getting sued. Make sense?

Now, I’m sure that the court order tells the man to pay the money to the CSA, so technically, he’s in violation of the order. But that doesn’t mean he’s not supporting his daughters in excess of the amount required. And if the point of child support is to, well, support children, that’s exactly what this man is doing. So you’d think there’d be someone somewhere who could simply make the commonsense decision to credit the man with having paid $17,000 to support his daughters and wipe clean his supposed debt.

And apparently there is such a someone.

But the payments to the girls could have been counted as official child support if his ex-partner had given official notice, but their "unstable relationship", characterised by abusive text messages, made it difficult.

Sure enough, Mom could have informed the CSA of the payments and that they’d gone to support the girls, and that would be that. Australian taxpayers would have been saved $100,000, the man much heartache and all would be, if not well, at least final. But no. Mom wants the money herself and so, despite having more than adequately supported his daughters, Dad’s in trouble with CSA and the courts.

And that of course raises another important point. For a couple of decades now, non-custodial fathers have been complaining that their “child support” goes not to their children, but to their exes. How, they ask, do they know their hard-earned dollars are actually doing what the law says they’re supposed to do? They pay every two weeks, but, when visitation time rolls around, the child is improperly dressed, dirty and underfed. Where’d the money go?

The answer is “Nobody knows and nobody cares.” Oh, the non-custodial parent cares, but the child support system takes no notice. Once the money is received by the state and disbursed to the custodial parent, it’s assumed to be spent on the child, but often it’s not.

We could devise a simple system for ensuring that the money is spent on children, but no one’s interested in doing that. Have the payments go for vouchers that would act like food stamps except they’d be good for a wider array of things, like medicine, clothing, etc. That way non-custodial parents would know their money was actually going to their children instead of into their ex’s veins.

Meanwhile, back in Australia, one member of Parliament is hunting smaller game.

But the agency is going to have to defend its handling of the case in front of Senate estimates next week as well as answering questions about other disputes where hundreds of thousands of dollars have been spent pursuing small or questionable debts.

Independent senator Nick Xenophon says he will use the case to pursue his reform of the "inflexible system" which, he says, is failing children, their mothers and fathers.

The case comes in the wake of another matter, which was also aired in the Senate, where the Child Support Agency spent more than $600,000 trying to recover $6000 until federal ministers called a halt.

Senator Xenophon said this latest case simply confirmed his determination to seek reform.

"This is yet another example of how inflexible and sometimes cruel the system can be," he said.

"There must be a better way because there are probably millions of dollars in unnecessary legal costs being incurred by taxpayers with this approach."

"I will be pushing for legislative reform"

Good for him, but it’ll take a lot more than that to reform a dysfunctional child support system that often seems to exist more for the benefit of government bureaucrats and custodial parents than of children.


National Parents Organization is a Shared Parenting Organization

National Parents Organization is a non-profit that educates the public, families, educators, and legislators about the importance of shared parenting and how it can reduce conflict in children, parents, and extended families. Along with Shared Parenting we advocate for fair Child Support and Alimony Legislation. Want to get involved?  Here’s how:

Together, we can drive home the family, child development, social and national benefits of shared parenting, and fair child support and alimony. Thank you for your activism.

#childsupport, #non-custodialfathers, #non-custodialmothers

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