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November 29, 2017 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

In Michigan, House Bill 4691 is much in the news. So far, the coverage of it and its subject, shared parenting, has been almost uniformly positive. The lone voice in opposition has been that of a divorce lawyer bent on keeping his cash flow robust. (As an aside, that lawyer, John F. Schaefer, has still not responded to my request to produce any evidence that the current system of primary/sole parenting is beneficial to kids. In his op-ed, he claimed it’s supported by “solid research,” but, despite my asking, Schaefer hasn’t produced the goods.)

This article says not a word about shared parenting because that’s not its subject (MLive, 11/27/17). But in fact, shared parenting is the elephant in the room. It’s there everywhere a reader looks. I suspect it’s no accident that the article appears in the middle of the debate over HB 4691. And that, like the rest of the coverage (except for Schaefer’s piece) is all to the good.

It’s about the most recent data on child support in Michigan gleaned from reputable sources like the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Kids Count Data Book and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. The facts positively scream for shared parenting post-divorce. Consider:

Michigan's child support program served 881,557 children in 842,709 child support cases in 2015, according to MDHHS. That's equivalent to 38% of the 2,475,183 Michigan residents age 19 and under.

About 81% of Michigan child support cases had a child support order in place, according to MDHHS.

By contrast, equal parenting would encourage judges to simply abandon a child support order altogether. After all, equal time pretty much means equal financial support except for one-time or occasional items like insurance, school supplies and the like which could easily be shared equally. Fewer child support orders would mean less conflict and resentment between ex-spouses. That in turn would mean fewer motions filed in court and, more importantly, a vastly reduced child support bureaucracy. Michigan taxpayers, many of whom have no part in the child support system, would get a break, children would be better off and parents less stressed.

Parents in about 67% of child support cases owe some past due support, according to MDHHS…

The average owed in cases with child support debt was $13,586, and the cumulative past-due child support, or arrears, owed as of Sept. 30, 2015, was about $6.34 billion.

The anti-dad crowd will tell you that that’s all a function of “deadbeat dads,” i.e. those who are so uncaring and feckless that they seek any excuse to stiff their kids. As usual, the reality of the matter bears little resemblance to that flawed narrative. In the first place, non-custodial mothers have never been as good about paying what they owe as have been NC dads. Second, does anyone believe that two-thirds of divorced couples have one parent who doesn’t care about their children? The notion is absurd. Third, what those figures suggest is what we already know – that courts routinely set child support at levels parents can’t pay, resulting in arrearages and state efforts to squeeze money out of impecunious parents. The Office of Child Support Enforcement has said that some 60% of parents behind on their payments report earnings of less than $10,000 per year. So of course all of this hits the poor hardest. We’ve known this for decades now.

But again, a system that presumes what science shows – that kids do best with two parents involved in their lives - and encourages shared parenting, would largely obviate the need for child support at all. In addition to all the other savings mentioned before, the need for jails and all the attendant personnel would drop and parents would no longer see their drivers’ licenses and other occupational licenses suspended. That would improve their ability to work, earn and save, which would benefit the economy.

The Michigan child support program collected and paid out $1.36 billion in child support, with $1.2 billion sent to families, according to MDHHS.

The state collected about 71% of the amount due each month. The average payment was $164 per child per month.

The system collects $164 per child per month. Nothing quite says “the parents in the system are poor” quite like that number and its companion – that $164 represents 71% of what’s owed that child. That would mean that the average child support order in the state calls for a payment of $232 per child per month. That’s lower than the national average of about $294 per month, according to the Census Bureau, but not out of line.

The data strongly urge the conclusion that child support obligors are poor and unable to pay what they owe. If equal parenting were the norm, much of this problem would simply vanish and everyone, including public treasuries, would benefit.

More on this tomorrow.

 

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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, #Michigan, #sharedparenting, #HB4691

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