Thursday, December 2, 2010

What Exactly is Child Support?

When I went through a divorce in the early 2000s, for the first time, I got a real close up view the family law system - and I didn't like what I saw.
As I mentioned in my post The Great Oxymoron: Family Law, I think that the system, as it functions in the United States and perhaps many other countries, is very anti family. It's a sleeping hungry lion - as long as it's a asleep, you can dance around it and have a ball. But the moment it awakens, it's ferocious and can shred you to pieces.
By the way, I'm not speaking against family law attorneys. I had a pretty good one myself and I personally know some who do read and follow The Upbeat Dad and think it's great. I'm just referring to the fundamentals of the system - the industry, if you will. It does not promote reconciliation but rather, further division.
Now to the question of the day: What exactly is child support? I asked myself that question when I was going through a mediation at the end of my divorce proceedings.
It seemed to me that it was just a mathematical calculation. I'm a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) and I do many mathematical formulas for calculating income taxes and payroll deductions. So seeing the way the calculation works reminded me of my daily work.
The calculation, I think, is fair. It takes into account the income of both parents. And it seeks to ensure that the children are adequately supported. The non-custodial parent writes a check to the custodial parent for the portion that applies to him or her. That's quite good, I believe.
Now here's my issue with the whole concept. Some fathers go into court and walk away with the belief that as long as you pay child support you're a good dad. And unfortunately, the court helps to convey that message. So you can be a loving dad who's close to your kids - and then you're divorced or otherwise separated and then your support for your kids is reduced to a bi-weekly check? That's not right.
I know fathers who live locally and see their kids sparingly. But they always pay their child support. And as far as the court is concerned, they're good dads.
In my mediation, I ended up losing so much. But one thing I would not compromise on was time with my then 3 year old daughter. I refused to reduce the role that I played in her life to a payroll deduction or a check that I write. What about quality time? What about helping to teach her right from wrong? What about helping with her homework as she starts school?
You cannot adequately function as a parent when the only contact with your child is every other weekend. It's more like you're a member of the extended family who sees the kids and plays with them and sends them home to the place where life lessons and discipline are taught.
I don't even mind the "every other weekend" visitation concept all that much as long as the non-custodial parent is always in contact with the kids. If you see your kids every other weekend or if you live in different cities and you only see them every few months, always be in contact with them. With technology today, there are so many ways and means to be involved in their lives.
A good dad, in the eyes of the legal system, pays his child support and sees his kids every 2 weeks. An upbeat dad, on the other hand, not only pays his child support, but also tries to get more time with the kids. And he also is in constant contact with them.

I even remember when my daughter lived with my ex in New York, I not only called her daily, but I went over her homework with her on the phone. Sometimes those calls would last over an hour. And to me that was time well spent. Now that she lives with my wife and me, I invest even more time in her life, knowing that my "child support" is a lifetime commitment.
I don't know how things may be in your life today. Perhaps you've been disillusioned by a system that says you're a good dad but you're losing that essential connection to your kids. I have often said, "What's a 4 letter word that let's your kids know you love them? T-I-M-E."
When I was 16 years old, I went on my first date. The movie we saw was, "Can't Buy Me Love." The essence of that concept was that money can't buy you the love and affection you need. The same applies here. Money is an essential part of the equation as you express your love for your children. But more essential is the time, affection and devotion that you just can't buy.
I encourage you to learn this very important lesson. The bond I have with my daughter today didn't come accidentally. If you devote yourself to your kids unconditionally, then it will pay lifetime dividends.
The job of a parent is the role of a lifetime. It's not fair for moms to have the responsibility to do everything for them while our only involvement is a check and a periodic visit. We owe it to our kids to do everything to ensure they're comfortable and well-adjusted.
If you should embrace this message, then I believe each of us - dads, moms and kids - would benefit greatly.
Have an awesome day.

The Upbeat Dad


  1. Wow. I just started following you on twitter (@YoungFabMama) and I loved your bio. I was like YES! There is alot of male bashing on twitter. I was relieved to see a man who was taking a stand and wanting to be a great Dad. This post blew me out of the water. Just amazing. My daughters father and I are no longer together and we have a 5 year old daughter. Our co-parenting relationship..well is awful. We are constantly at each others throats. I ended up filing for child support 2 years ago and it was a battle. I felt bad, I thought he would hate me. I filed once, then called them and told them I didn't want to go through with it. Then I re-filed and went through with the process. Now this is after countless letters and pleas with him to help me get our daughter school clothes or socks or sneakers. I couldn't deal with the inconsistency and his dismissal of his daughter. His own flesh and blood. And even in court, I had his weekly amount reduced. I didn't want to cause him any financial strain. But, I hated going to court, I was shaking the entire day. I felt sick to my stomach having to ask the court to show this man how to be a dad. But, what I wanted then is the same I want now. I want him to spend consistent time with her. I want her to know that Daddy loves her unconditionally and WILL set aside time to spend with her. I hate his inconsistency and his broken promises to her. I wonder how it affects her now and how it will affect her in the future. You really said it best when you said that:
    You cannot adequately function as a parent when the only contact with your child is every other weekend. It's more like you're a member of the extended family who sees the kids and plays with them and sends them home to the place where life lessons and discipline are taught.
    And I truly resonate do deeply when you say that a 4 letter word that let's your kids know you love them? T-I-M-E. Our children should never have to question their parents love for them. Regardless of distance or circumstance, we as parents should always reach out and stay connected with our children.
    I am going to print this out and mail to my co-parent. He will probably not read it. He will probably say that he didn’t get it. But, he really needs to read this.
    Thank You so much for writing this. Its really great to get a male perspective on topics like this.

  2. Love the post. I am a divorced father and I fell Into thinking I was doing my part by paying my child support (which is pretty high) and seeing them every other weekend. I felt "forced" in this role. But after some self examination I saw I was moving myself into that role because of the emotions I was under as part of the divorce. And of course who suffered...the kids.

    I now try to be more a figure in their life. Be a part of the every day happenings. I call when possible, set up email accounts, and am looking to set up a video chat kind of setup. It's also making my ex and I coparent better. Win win!

  3. Great post. Thanks for sharing.

  4. My husband tried so hard to be part of his kids life. He agreed in mediation he would call every night at a set time. His ex turned the ringer off on the phone and then said he didn't call. She told him she had line then phone problems. It was only when he bought her a new phone she admitted she didn't like him calling.

    She said he wasn't allowed to talk to their teachers. She didn't give him report cards, teacher's notices etc.

    She told the girls he 'chose to leave them' so he was responsible for all pick up / drop off for contact and she would not be involved in any way.

    She routinely threatened he would 'never see them again' if he didn't meet her financial demands.

    When she and he went to court after I was married - he tried to reduce alimony so he could pay private school fees - she found out my salary, told the kids and even my mother in law what I earned and said I should support us so she could have all his salary.

  5. interesting. . wish I could see my children. I am over paid on child support, have no record, and have no rights. everytime I see my youngest I get a cop called on me. my ex saying I am trying to kid nap my child. the court in Florida does not want to see my case or change my "liberal" standing in my divorce decree. my ex constantly says I am a dead beat and refuses visitation unless I pay her more. then she calles me at odd times saying she can't take care of the child and I must take care of her wile still paying child support. the ex is allowed to move from house to house, man to man, and job to job. wile if I miss one payment she has the right to throw me in jail. I am thinking of killing myself on a daly bacis. 9 years to go.hope I make it.