Throughout communities and among family court advocates, child support laws are at the center of many heated debates. Some feel that parents who actually pay their child support end up suffering under the current system, while parents that do not financially support their kids have found ways to manipulate or avoid the system. Some prefer to keep the courts out of their parental matters; in some cases it seems impossible for parties to co-parent in a low-conflict manner.
I should know. Come this August, I’ll officially be a stepmother to three kids!
Before my current relationship, my knowledge of child support was limited. My parents are still married. My siblings and I do not have children. I only “experienced” child support through the lens of friends and family members who were struggling and their co-parents weren’t doing much to help them. I saw two of my closest girlfriends raise their children and complete graduate school while working full-time jobs despite receiving a maximum of $200 per month in child support from their children’s father. These women are and were two of my heros. I was definitely on the “Men ain’t $%t” train.
Then I met my fiance and for the first time I had the opportunity to witness a man uphold his financial obligations. He continues to pay a couple of thousand per month in child support. He also covers the daycare & aftercare fees and his children’s health insurance premiums. He is committed to being a present parent, so he regularly travels to the midwest from NYC to see his children on the allotted weekends, holidays, and their birthdays. Witnessing his pure devotion to his children softened my views about child support. Don’t get me wrong, there are parents who don’t fulfill their parental duties with regards to supporting their children; but my fiance opened my eyes to a different perspective of the argument.
Fast forward to today. As my fiancé and I begin the process of combining our incomes, we must account for his child support commitments. Child support has the same priority as our mortgage and investments. He is the sole financial provider for his kids, as his ex-wife is currently a stay at home mother. Every non-custodial parent hopes that the money contributed to child support is being used to provide their kids with a lifestyle that is equivalent to what they would provide if they were the custodial parent. Often, non-custodial parents are concerned because there is no way to verify that child support is spent on the child(ren). In most cases, custodial parents are using every dime to better the children, but there are instances where funds are misused.
As it stands, the law requires non-custodial parents to contribute 20-30% of their income toward child support. A divorcee who pays spousal support and child support is automatically relieved of paying spousal support (alimony) if the custodial parent remarries. In this instance, the non-custodial parent is NOT relieved of child support payments. Relieving dad of his child support responsibilities, in the case of remarriage, would legally require the new spouse to assume financial responsibility for his newly acquired stepchildren. Essentially, the new spouse would be financially penalized for marrying a woman with children.
To an extent, spouses of non-custodial parents can be penalized for marrying a partner with child support obligations. As the spouse, your income can be considered but as a stepparent you gain no legal rights or obligations to your spouse’s child(ren). Although you love them, provide a home for them and assist in child-rearing and nurturing, the child(ren) do not legally become yours. There is a possibility your spouse could be penalized and required to pay more in child support if your combined household income is significantly higher than it was prior to marriage. To avoid this, you can elect to forego any tax benefits you would receive as a married couple and file separately.
Most spouses and future spouses can accept this. I can deal with that. The ambiguity of child support law is what poses a concern. In “extraordinary cases”, child support can become a grey area and is at the discretion of a judge. For example, if a custodial parent remarries a very wealthy individual and the family – mother and child(ren) – are “upgraded” to an affluent lifestyle, the biological parent can still be required to pay child support! So while the children are privy to a more lavish lifestyle, the non-custodial parent is still required to pay child support. In my opinion, the laws are antiquated. In an attempt to be fair and swift, they are inflexible and bureaucratic.
Regardless of whether the child support is court mandated or based on an agreement between parents, I agree that children need financial resources. So I ask, should non-custodial parents also be relieved of paying child support if the custodial parent remarries?
Want my opinion? ABSOLUTELY!
Sound off and let me know what you think below in the comments.
Naja Matthews is the Editor-in- chief of MissNaja.com, a blog dedicated to “Redefining The Domestic Woman”. She and her fiancé have also founded BlendedandBlack.com, a website focused on ending the drama and creating harmony in African American stepfamilies.
If Naja could have one superpower, she would love to be able to teleport. That way, she could have cheese eggs, bacon and grits with her Grandma in Memphis every morning, go for a midday swim in Antigua, have lunch in Rome with perfect strangers and be home in time for dinner with her beau in Manhattan.