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.
AZ's New Child Support Guidelines Come from Deeply Flawed Analysis
As the email from the concerned mom from Arizona that I posted as a blog made clear, Professor Ira Ellman of Arizona State University is one of the driving forces behind that state's proposed changes to its child support guidelines. The previous post on the topic spelled out exactly what is about to happen unless Arizonans put a stop to it. But now I'd like to elucidate Prof. Ellman's theory. It's expressed here, and should be alarming to anyone with a less radical view of income redistribution than Ellman's. As our anonymous blogger wrote, most states use some version of an "Income Shares" approach to calculating child support. That's based on the incremental costs of raising a child. In other words, picture a husband and wife living alone. It costs them X to live including housing, insurance, medical, utilities, food, travel, clothing, entertainment, etc. Now picture them with a child. It now costs them some amount more to live each month because the child requires food, shelter, clothing, medical attention, etc. Call that increase 'Y.' Now if the two people divorce and she gets custody of the child, the question arises "how much should the dad pay in child support?" The Income Shares system answers thus: add mom's and dad's income together. Let's say she makes $3,500 per month and he makes $4,500 per month. Together they earn $8,000 each month, so he earns 56.5% of their total. Therefore, he should pay 56.25% of Y as his monthly child support. That's how the Income Shares approach to child support payments operates. As you can readily see, its most basic assumption is that the money paid should represent the needs of the child. That is, what the NCP pays should be child support, not spousal support. That's why it bothers to figure out from nationally-accumulated data, how much extra it costs families to support children. Now we all know that money is fungible and so any amount paid to the custodial parent helps her to live. But since she has custody, her expenses are greater than if she didn't. So under the Income Shares concept, amounts paid by the NCP are only those amounts required to pay for the incremental expenses associated with the child. The Income Shares approach reflects a clear public policy - that child support is to support the child and no more. It is not meant as alimony. And it is that most important concept that Professor Ellman completely ignores. Indeed, in his 58-page article, he lists five "principles" which he says underpin child support but not one of them is that it is for the support of the child and not the mother. Some of his principles are unarguable such as child support is for the welfare of the child and child support reflects the policy that both parents should contribute to the child's support. But nowhere does he state one of the most obvious principles, expressed countless times by policymakers and courts alike - that child support is child support and spousal support is spousal support. Ellman abandons the principle without ever letting on that he's doing so. Because Ellman's work is so flawed, I'll devote another post to it later.