Thursday, January 16, 2014

Child Support and Shared Parenting


January 14, 2014 by Don Hubin, PhD, Chair, Executive Committee, National Parents Organization of Ohio
Many don’t realize that our modern (and I use the term advisedly) federal child support system is an outgrowth of the welfare system. It was not originally designed for cases of divorce; it was originally designed to ensure that those men who had sired children assume financial responsibility for them. (I say ‘sired’ instead of ‘fathered’ because fathering is much more than causing a pregnancy.) It is because of this heritage that child support agencies often used to refer to obligors as “Absent Parents”. This label is seldom used outside the agencies anymore; it caused some measure of offense, which seemed to surprise the child support agencies. (I remember vividly coming home one night to cook dinner for my kids, help them with their homework, put them to bed and, finally, get a chance to open my mail, only to find a letter from my friendly child support agency addressed with the salutation, “Dear Absent Parent”. when I complained, the director of the agency asked me what I wanted to be called. I said, “father”.) The legacy lives on, hidden from public eyes, in many child support computer systems that designate obligors as ‘AP’s.
This history of the federal child support system affects more than just the way that child support agencies look at and label child support obligors. In many states, it affects the way child support is thought of and how it is calculated. The child support calculations used in many states assume that child support obligors have no direct expenses on their children; they are assumed to be genuinely absent parents. Furthermore, often the methodology used to calculate child support is hostile to true shared parenting.
In some states, for example, shared parenting is treated as an instance of “extended visitation”. One parent is treated as the custodial parent and the other as noncustodial for child support purposes, and then a deviation (adjustment) is made to acknowledge the extended parenting time. This happens even if the two parents share parenting time and expenses equally and have similar incomes. The results are often bizarre. In one Ohio case, for example, the parent with the lower income was designated the obligor and the result was, though the parents divided the children’s time and expenses equally, that parent was ordered to pay child support to the parent with the higher income, resulting in further disparity between the two homes. (This case is discussed, with citations, in the first two documents available on this page:
Some people believe that in shared parenting cases, there should be no child support obligation at all. But this ignores the fact that the parents might have very different resources and, even though they’re sharing custody, different expenses on the children.
How should child support be calculated in shared parenting cases? I’ve thought a fair bit about this because it was the issue in my own divorce that I took to the Ohio Supreme Court. Conceptually, it’s not that complicated. A reasonable and justified estimate needs to be made of the costs necessary to raise the children in a manner appropriate given the parents financial resources. That constitutes the parents’ combined child support obligation. The obligation to contribute toward that sum should be apportioned between the parents based on their ability to pay. (This might sound like communism — “from each according to his/her ability” — but it concerns only the distribution of child rearing costs within the family and I’ve heard no one argue that support of one’s own children should be subject to a laissez faire marketplace.) Then, that sum should be divided between the two parents’ homes based on the anticipated expenses on the children.
This approach gets the result right. Consider a few test cases. Suppose that mom and dad have equal incomes and expenses on the children. In such a case, neither should be paying child support to the other. “No child support!” you can almost hear some people shriek. But this doesn’t mean “no child support”; it means no child support transfer payment. The children are supported by each parent directly and there is no need for a transfer payment between the parents. Suppose, now, that the parents have equal incomes but one parent has substantially higher child costs than the other — perhaps because the time isn’t divided equally or perhaps because that parent is paying for child care, lessons, private school, or whatever. In this case, the parent with the lower direct child-related costs would make a child support transfer payment to the parent with the higher costs. This transfer payment is made so that each parent makes an equal contribution to the support of the children. Now suppose that one parent has far higher income than the other but they have equal time and expenses on the children. In this case, the higher earning parent would make a transfer payment to the other parent. This isn’t in order to equalize the incomes in the homes. It is to assign to that parent his or her fair share of the combined cost of raising the children.
This approach seems so obviously sensible to most people that it’s surprising how foreign it is to those involved in setting and enforcing child support obligations. Surprising, that is, until you realize that the federal child support system was designed to ferret out scofflaws and ne’re-do-wells who abandon their children and get money from them in order to relieve the taxpayers of some of the cost of raising their people’s children. It was not designed originally to handle the cases of divorces and separations where both parents have been, and hope to continue to be, involved in raising their children. It doesn’t deal particularly well with these cases, which is why National Parents Organization is dedicated to changing child support laws and policies in ways that will promote, rather than inhibit, true shared parenting.


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.
#DonHubin, #Ohio, #Welfaresystem, #Childsupport, #Divorce, #Separation, #Fathered, #Absentparents .

Thursday, January 9, 2014


January 7, 2014 by Don Hubin, Chair, Executive Committee, National Parents Organization of Ohio
Many of us, unfortunately, live in states where statutory provisions and court practices make true shared parenting difficult to achieve. In my home state of Ohio, for example, there is no legal preference for shared parenting and many cases that are designated “shared parenting” are shared parenting in name only. Over the last two decades, many parents have shown me their shared parenting orders which, two pages into the order, say things like, “under this shared parenting plan, mother shall be the custodial and residential parent and father shall have parenting time with the children according to the following schedule.” These parents walked out of court, thinking they had true shared parenting only to realize later that they’d been sold the proverbial “pig in a poke.”
Even when both parents are clearly designated custodial and residential parents in their parenting plan, courts sometimes try to treat the parents unequally based on irrelevant asymmetries. For example, I’ve seen cases where the designation of one parent as the residential parent “for school placement purposes” was used to conclude that this parent was the sole custodial parent.
Those of us who are advocates for true shared parenting often find ourselves in a legal environment that is unfriendly to shared parenting. Such an environment can make true shared parenting harder to achieve. But there are strategies that can improve your chances of succeeding. Here are a few worth considering and discussing with your attorney.
The Basics:
  • Explicit Designation of Residential Parent and Legal Custodian Status: Every plan for true shared parenting should explicitly designate each parent a residential parent and legal custodian of the minor children. The language doing this should be entirely symmetric. Avoid language such as “Father is the residential parent and legal custodian of the children except when the children are with Mother.” Instead, say, “Father and Mother are each designated residential parent and legal custodian of the children while the children are in their care.”

  • Avoid Asymmetric Language in General: In any parenting plan, do not speak of the children “residing with” one parent and “visiting” the other parent. Children do not visit their parent. Do not use “parenting time” as a synonym for “visitation”. It is fine to use the term “parenting time”, but it should be used for the time with each parent, not just with one. Children do not live with one parent and have parenting time with the other; they reside withlive with, or have parenting time with eachparents according to a schedule.

  • If Asymmetric Language is Necessary, Explicitly Limit Its Implication: When absolutely required to designate one parent “residential” for school placement purposes or for purposes of receiving public assistance benefits, explicitly limit the asymmetry to this function. Add language like, “…and for no other purposes.”
Pro-Active Strategies
In many states, courts have struggled with the issue of how to calculate presumptive (guideline) child support in shared parenting cases. Because of this, special attention needs to be given to crafting a shared parenting plan so that it will work as intended. Courts always retain the authority to adjust child support levels, and a victory for true shared parenting in the initial decree of divorce can be partially undone by later administrative and court actions if the shared parenting plan and other court documents are not carefully drafted.
  • Maintain Symmetry in Child Support Worksheets and Deviation Entry: In many states, parents engaging in shared parenting must use the same worksheet used in sole custody cases. This presents an opportunity for asymmetries to enter and the equality of the shared parenting to be undermined. The child support amounts agreed to pursuant to a deviation from one parents’ child support obligation at one time may be very inappropriate at a later time when child support is recalculated. 

    One strategy for dealing with this problem is to complete and submit two child support worksheets, one designating the mother as the child support obligor and one designating the father as the child support obligor. This allows the court to see the effect calculating the child support obligation each way and helps combat the mindset that the only question is how much of a break to give dad when he’s an equal parent.

  • Use “Nominal” Split Custody to Create “Real” Shared Parenting: When more than one child is subject to the parenting plan, it is possible to create true shared parenting by employing a split custody decree, a decree that designates each parent the sole custodial and residential parent for at least one child. This sounds like splitting up the children, Parent Trap style. In most cases, that would be a very bad solution; most children—especially those adjusting to a post-divorce living situation—need to maintain strong relationship with their siblings. But, split custody can be combined with a parenting plan that does not divide the children for parenting time and requires agreement between the two parents on all major decisions concerning the children. If this is done, the effect can be true shared parenting despite the fact that one parent is designated the sole residential parent and legal custodian for at least one child and the other parent is so designated for at least one child. This approach can help to achieve the proper outcome with respect to child support, too, since each parent will be the presumptive obligor for at least one child and each will be the presumptive recipient for at least one child. The court can then make an appropriate adjustment from these baselines.
National Parents Organization is working to make true shared parenting the default outcome when parents divorce or separate. I hope you’ll assist National Parents Organization in this worthy effort. Progress is being made but we have a long way to go still. In the meantime, parents need to recognize that many laws and practices of courts and government agencies create an unfriendly environment for true shared parenting. Parents need to take special care to ensure that true shared parenting can be achieved in such an environment.