I’ve been paying child support for quite a long time now. My oldest daughter just turned 15 years old this past September. I still have 2 and a half years to go.
I’m happy to take care of my child and have no issue with ensuring she has all she needs. With what I do take issue, and always have, is the lack of accountability regarding child support.
I understand that each state has its own set of rules and laws; however I also understand that when it comes to child support, they all work pretty much the same way.
As I live in the state of Florida, I will discuss how child support works here. Additionally, I plan to provide a suggestion for how the current implementation child support could be more effective. I’ll also describe why this change I suggest will never be implemented and why.
First and foremost, child support is based on the salary of the child’s parents. Let me be crystal clear on this. A child’s worth is based 100% on the amount of money that the child’s parents earn.
Think about this. Not just for a second, but really think about it. The state is insistent that a child whose parents earn $50,000/year needs more than a child whose parents only earn $35,000/year.
You don’t believe me? Well, it is true. In the state of Florida, as in all other states, the amount of money that a parent paying child support must pay is based entirely on how much he or she earns. Additionally, the parent who is receiving child support is entitled to whatever that amount happens to be. There is no big pot of money where all the child support checks go, where the money is split up evenly and then handed over to each parent evenly. Not, that I take issue with that really, but I just wanted to be clear, so all my readers understand that the state doesn’t believe each child is worth the same.
Next, the amount of child support that must be paid works out roughly to about 20% of the net salary of the person paying it. I can hear you already. You’re saying “wait, that’s not how it works.” But, oh yes, it actually does.
The state of Florida likes to have us imagine that this fancy calculation that takes into consideration the salary of both parents is used, and a number is magically spit out in the end; a number that is calculated fairly with the child’s best interests in mind. The reality is not necessarily so clear.
What actually happens is this. One parent pays 20% of his/her net salary and the other parent receives that money. The receiving parent can spend the money on anything he/she wishes. No receipts, no proof of where the money goes. Just the good ‘ole honor system at it’s best! 🙂
Fortunately, the state realized that the honor system wasn’t going to work out so the payment of child support. That’s where the state invented the “formula”. The formula is supposed to consider the salary of both parents and then provide how much money is supposed to be paid from one parent to the other.
For simplicity, let’s assume that for every $1000 earned per year, a child’s residential parent should receive $20/month in support from the paying parent. This non-residential parent earning $50,000/year would pay (50 * 20) = $1000/month in child support.
Now, let’s also consider that the residential parent ALSO earns $50,000/year. Previously, I said that the amount of money a child receives is supposed to take into consideration the salary of both parents. Well, it does.
In this example where both parents earn $50,000/year respectively, the state has decided that the child needs $2000/month to survive. This is simple math. If $50,000/year = $1000/month, then $100,000/year = $2,000/month.
So the question becomes this. Is the payer responsible for $2,000 a month? Fortunately for he/she is that the answer is no. The non-residential parent pays only the percentage of the total income earned by both parents. So, although the child “needs” $2000/month to survive, the non-residential parent only earns 50% of the total $2000/month “needed”. I hope I haven’t lost you yet.
Here are a few more examples. I’ll show how much the non-residential parent versus the residential parent earns, and use the same logic above regarding a monthly amount where ($1000 a year = $20 a month). I’ll show how much each parent “pays” and how much total child support is needed by the child in a given month based entirely on the income of the parents.
- Scenario 1: Non-residential parent earns $100,000/year = $2000/month. Residential parent earns $25,000/year = $500/month. Total = $2,500/month.
- Scenario 2: Non-residential parent earns $150,000/year = $3000/month. Residential parent doesn’t work; therefore earns $0/year = $0/month. Total = $3000/month.
- Scenario 3: Non-residential parent earns $100,000/year = $2000/month. Resident parent earns $200,000/year = $4000/month. Total = $6000/month.
The interesting result that always comes out of the “formula” is that the parent paying child support always continues to pay the same percentage of his/her gross salary, despite how much or how little the parent receiving child support earns. This seems hardly fair. Especially considering that the paying parent is supposed to both pay a large child support payment each month AND attempt to provide the same lifestyle for his/her child when the child is at his/her home.
The worst part of the whole system is that the parent receiving child support, support that this child obviously needs, doesn’t have to show where the money goes. I’d assume that since the state is so insistent that a child could need thousands of dollars a month, the parent paying might deserve to know that the money is actually being spent on the child. Nope. It doesn’t work that way. The parent who pays is supposed to take it on faith that the child support money is spent on expenses that the parent receiving child support wouldn’t have incurred without the child. Child support is supposed to pay for those expenses that otherwise would not have existed. Unfortunately, since the state likes to insist that a child whose parents make more than another child needs more to survive, the state seems to be in the business of inflating the cost of child rearing for parents who make more money. What? Yep, that’s how it works.
One word. Accountability.
Force the parent receiving the support to show where the money goes? How could you possibly be so naïve. This could never happen. Well, I disagree. Not only should the parent who receives the support show where it goes. I believe that if the money isn’t all spent, it should be returned. After all, the money isn’t supposed to be a “thank you, here’s your bonus check for being such a great person”. It’s supposed to cover those expenses that otherwise would not have existed had it not been for the child.
Too often these days I see a parent receiving child support, living in the ghetto, driving a fancy, expensive car that she wouldn’t have been able to afford had it not been for that fat child support check. This parent decided that her child would be better off if the child’s parent drove a nice, fancy car. Not, if the child had, I don’t know, perhaps food and proper medical care instead. Obviously, this wouldn’t be the easiest system to implement; however I refuse to accept that it couldn’t be done. If the state can take the time it has taken to decide how much a child is worth, I’m sure that state can administer some changes to implement a system of accountability.
Here’s a suggestion. How about a credit card that is issued to parents who receive child support. Certain expenses can be paid from this card. Those expenses could be groceries, rent/mortgage, medical bills, clothing, etc. Beer, luxury items and other prohibited items would not be valid purchases using this card. This at a minimum would force a parent receiving support to spend the money on what it was intended to be spent on.
Why it won’t happen
Bottom line, those who are getting paid will never allow it. Those receiving child support have entirely too much to lose by allowing a system of accountability to be put into place. The state knows full well that the amount of money a child receives is no where near what a child needs. It would be embarrassed and ridiculed when it becomes so obvious that its current system is inherently flawed.
I’ll go on paying my child support. Someday I’ll get to stop. But, I’ll also know that I was right….a child’s worth can’t be measured by the income of his/her parents. You can’t put a price tag on your children. The parent who pays only knows this too well.