The government of New Zealand is apparently considering changes to its child support laws that would require the non-custodial parent to pay according to the child’s needs, not according to the parent’s income. According to father’s rights advocate Darrell Carlin, such a change would encourage parents without custody to pay. In New Zealand, about one-third of non-custodial parents are in arrears on child support obligations. That’s the most in five years and amounts to over $500 million in arrearages plus $1 billion in penalities.
“I don’t find many fathers who don’t want to support their kids, but they’re troubled supporting their ex’s lifestyle.”
That’s a common complaint in this country as well. Here, non-custodial fathers are significantly better about paying child support than are non-custodial mothers, according to U.S. Census Bureau data. So such a change to the law, if enacted here, would likely be welcomed by “visiting” parents of both sexes.
And, as I’ve reported before, the U.S. Office of Child Support Enforcement has, for a long time, been trying, with little success, to get family courts to set support at levels non-custodial parents are actually capable of paying. So, since courts aren’t paying much attention to what non-custodial parents earn anyway, maybe it would be a good idea to junk the whole system and start over by looking first to what children need.
Now, ignoring altogether the earnings of the non-custodial parent doesn’t seem like a good idea either. A parent out of work may be unable to meet even the bare-bones needs of a child, while requiring a wealthy parent to pay only the minimum for a child who’s used to more seems punitive toward the child. So I’d favor establishing a range with zero as the lower end and some other figure at the upper. Zero would apply to a parent who is truly destitute and the upper end would be the maximum regardless of the non-custodial parent’s income.
Whatever the merits or demerits of the option now being considered in New Zealand, the real best solution is, once again, equally shared parenting. With equal or nearly equal time for both parents, and a custody agreement between the two, child support would be unnecessary. With child support unnecessary in the large majority of cases, we could shut down most of the callous bureaucracy that so often ill serves parents, children and states.
Even with a presumption of equally shared parenting, there will always be some cases in which one parent has primary custody. In those cases, child support will need to be ordered by a court and it would be a good idea to order it in a way that it can be paid. In those cases, the idea currently being debated in New Zealand is worth looking at here.
And, not surprisingly, that’s what Darrell Carlin thinks too. He emphasizes shared parenting as the obvious way to equalize the costs of child care.
BFSO readers, what do you think about enforcing child support based on need and not income. We want to hear from you!