Last week I gave you some basics on child support, so that you can understand what you’re up against.  I talked about the origin of the current confiscatory child support rates in the politics of bashing the so-called dead-beat dads.  But here’s the irony:  the divorce system tends to split up families without requiring the honoring of traditional family obligations, such as love, fealty and emotional support.  It physically separates the non-custodial parent (usually dad) from a potentially fulfilling parent-child relationship.  It then says, “pay your financial obligation to this child.”

If you’re that guy that would rather live on a park bench than pay your support, I can’t help you.  But if you want to step up to the plate and be a parent, there’s a part of the guideline calculation you can impact and control.  That side is the number of hours you have with your son or daughter.

Elements of the Child Support Calculation:

Let’s look at the data that go into the support calculation, which are these:

1.  The number of supported children;

2.  The tax filing status and number of exemptions each parent takes;

3.  The gross earnings (or earning capacity) of the parties;

4.  Deductions such as healthcare costs, mandatory retirement and mandatory expenses; and

5.  The percentage of weekly hours spent by the parties.

Control What You Can.

The more hours per week that you, the paying parent, spend with the child, the lower your support will be.  But, you say, “she’ll only let me see them on weekends.”  Or, “my court orders only give me 20 percent time (or less).

But here’s where your advantage lies:  Scientific studies have shown that, all other factors being equal, spending time with the non-custodial spouse (usually dad) leads to better adjustment of children to divorce, less delinquency, less drug use, better school performance, and, in short, better kids.  If you think about it, this should be obvious.  Much gang activity and disrespectful behavior toward women can be traced to fatherlessness among children.  Men teach boys how to be men and respect women.  Women teach their daughters how to be adult women.  But it is fathers who, by their conduct, can teach a young woman how a man ought to treat her.

Your family judges know this, and this is why the trend is toward joint custody arrangements.  Such arrangements, between adequate parents, are better for children than one involved parent and one garnished parent.

How to Push the Parenting Time Needle in Your Direction:

The best way to do this is to step up to the plate and be a parent.  Listen, your kids crave your attention, approval and discipline, even if they don’t show it outwardly.  So be a parent.  Volunteer at their school.  Offer to assist their basketball coach.  Get to know their friends.  Plan special events and trips with them.  Make memories.  It’s as simple as that.

It’s a win, win, win, because this focus benefits you, the paying parent, the child who gets a loving parent, and the other parent gets a child who is happy, healthy and easier to manage.  In my experience, courts are generally sympathetic to parents who rearrange their lifestyles around parenting.  They will tolerate a lower level of earnings and not impute higher income to you if you are really stepping up to the plate.

And you may just find that giving to your kids in ways other than money can produce a deeply satisfying relationship with them.  I’ve been able to do this in my own divorce situation.  You can, too.

It’s important to recognize that deepening your parent-child relationship is a marathon, not a sprint.  You’re not going to be able to just go to court after years of neglecting that relationship and get an order of 50-50 parenting time.  You have to lay the foundation by taking the parenting time you have right now, and using it to build that relationship.

Doing this, you’ll lower your payments, and get something in return that money can’t buy:  The love and gratitude of your kids.  I urge you to…

Love your family,

Protect your finances, and

Reach for your future!

Thomas D. Ferreira, Esq.

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