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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.  

December 16, 2018 by Robert Franklin, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

“Deadbeat dads” are back in the British news (Independent, 12/13/18).  Oh, the article avoids the term, but the message is the same – fathers don’t care about their kids, so, when Mom divorces Dad, Dad doesn’t want to pay.  We could write the narrative in our sleep.  Needless to say, the article is all of a piece with a thousand others.  Like many of them though, it inadvertently reveals facts about the child support system some would prefer to remain unknown.

It seems that many divorced and separated fathers in the U.K. don’t pay child support or, if they do, don’t pay much.  Or at least that’s what the mothers of their children say.  In keeping with the genre, the survey to which it refers makes no mention of fathers, what their feelings are about the child custody and support systems or indeed anything related to fathers.  Nor does it inquire into non-custodial mothers’ rates of child support.  If the mothers think fathers are anything but walking wallets, there’s no indication of it in the article.

Still,
More than a third of single mothers are in debt because their former partner has failed to pay child maintenance, new research has found.
A quarter of the women surveyed say they do not receive any regular financial help from their child’s father – forcing them to shoulder the cost of raising their child alone.
New research by Slater and Gordon – a UK law firm who specialise in family law – found 11 per cent say they have been forced to depend on food banks to feed their children when their ex-partner has refused to help them financially.
That sounds like bad news indeed.  So what are these mothers missing out on?
The basic rate of maintenance parents not living with their child are required to pay is 12 per cent of their gross income for one child, 16 per cent for two children and 19 per cent for three or more. On an average salary of £27,000 a year, that equates to £3,240 to cover the cost of their child for a year.
In terms of U.S. dollars, that average salary would be about $34,000 per year with about $4,100 going to child support, leaving about $28,900 left over for Dad and whoever else he has to support.

So what the article is saying is that a substantial number of mothers can’t make ends meet because they’re not receiving $340 per month for one child or about $450 for two.  In short, they’re extremely close to not making ends meet regardless.

Those familiar with similar data in the U.S. won’t be surprised by these findings.  The U.S. Census Bureau has found that between one-third and 40% of single mothers live in poverty.  The national poverty rate is about 14% and about 17% of single fathers with child custody fall below the poverty line.  So the data out of the U.K. looks to be in line with that in the U.S.

And in the U.S., the reason single mothers tend so strongly to be impoverished isn’t because the fathers of their children don’t pay enough child support.  Non-custodial mothers are far less likely to be ordered to pay child support at all, are ordered to pay less when they are ordered to and pay a slightly smaller percentage of what they owe than do non-custodial dads.  And yet custodial fathers have more money than do non-custodial mothers.  If they’re like other men and women, they do that because they work more and at higher paying jobs than do custodial mothers.

I suspect a similar dynamic is at work in the U.K.

Meanwhile, apparently without realizing it, the Independent article suggests the truth about child support.
Ms Cornish said: “People are often shocked by how much they are entitled to when they look at the government calculator. The amount suggested will often not even cover half of the housing costs for a parent and child.”…
There is not enough money for just life generally…
Half of mothers said their ex-partner’s contribution is not enough to pay the bills – meaning they are short of on average of £3,264 a year.
Some 88 per cent say their unstable financial situation means they are anxious about being made homeless due to struggling to find enough money to cover rent or monthly mortgage payments.
Notice that there’s not a word in there about supporting a child.  It seems to be taken as a matter of course that it’s Dad’s job to “cover rent or monthly mortgage payments,” “pay the bills” and for “life generally.”  It’s not.  It might have been his job when the two were married, but no longer.  His job is to pay for a maximum of half the incremental cost of raising the child(ren). 

Attorney Cornish is right; I’m sure mothers are shocked that, for a single child, an ex-husband earning £27,000 per year only pays about £3,240 per year.  But the theory is that he pays half and she pays half, regardless of the custody arrangement.  And, if Dad never claps eyes on the child from one month to the next, i.e. has zero parenting time, that £3,240 per year looks about right.  Again, that’s about $4,100, or about $340 per month.  The State of Texas pays foster parents between $660 and $680 per child per month, so that must be about what it costs to raise a child.

So what’s the problem with a British father paying that amount?  None at all as long as his money is just for child support, so why is anyone shocked?  I suspect it’s because they, along with the article, assume that Dad should be required to do more than just contribute half to the support of his child.

Meanwhile, there’s another issue with which U.S. dads will be familiar.
Some two-thirds said their ex-partner regularly voiced irritation at having to pay for their child and six in 10 said they were often interrogated about how the money was being spent.
Yes, how the money is spent is quite an issue with non-custodial fathers, most of whom have no problem with supporting their children, but cavil at the thought of their money going to enhance Mom’s liquor cabinet or lingerie drawer.  As I’ve written many times, we could fix that fairly easily, but we don’t.

And of course the Independent article ignores the obvious fix for all of this – equal parenting.  When Mom and Dad each has 50% of the parenting time, there’s little need for child support at all.  Better yet, letting Dad do half the parenting, releases Mom to work more, earn more, save more and advance more in her career, obviating in the process all this talk about mothers suffering financial hardship because Dad hasn’t paid.

It’s the obvious solution to the problem, but one the article never even considers.  Reduce Mom’s parenting time obligation from 80% - 100% to 50% and she can do a lot to take care of herself and gain real financial autonomy from the ex she wants nothing to do with anyway.  It’s quite a concept.  It’s a concept that appears neither in the Independent article nor elsewhere in public discourse.

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