divorced father
Still A Dad mindful vs mindless

Fathers rights in child support

The following is an excerpt from: Still a Dad

Depending on the state where he lives, a father must pay 15 percent to 20 percent of his pretax income (20 percent to 25 percent, or more, after-tax) as child support for one child. This usually goes to 25 percent to 35 percent pretax (30 percent to 40 percent, or more, after-tax) because there is more than one child.

Of course, it is right to expect a father to be financially responsible for his child. All parents should be, whether they are married or not, whether they are fathers or mothers. But the way money is dealt with in a traditional divorce makes fathers feel even more “divorced” from their children.

The system is based on guidelines defined by the states’ legislatures, specifying what percentage of the non-custodial parent’s income must be paid to the custodial parent as child support.

The child support guidelines were created to protect mothers and their children from the fathers who abandon them. They address very real problems, depicted dramatically and often in the media.

We are familiar with the plight of teenage mothers struggling to raise kids while barely out of childhood themselves. We have also heard a lot about the “welfare mothers” supported by taxpayers when the fathers could be picking up the tab.

It makes sense that, as a society, we want to take care of the major social problem of fatherless families. And it’s only fair that we want to find ways to get irresponsible fathers to act responsibly.

What’s unfortunate is the effect that the laws and guidelines have on fathers. Simply because he is divorcing, the father is automatically treated like somebody who wants to abandon his child. There is an assumption that the mother will continue to be loving and responsible, whereas the father will have to be coerced into doing the right thing. The mother remains in charge of deciding what to buy for the children, and the father has to make child support payments. That a father may have a loving interest in doing the best for his child is not even remotely in the picture.

The point is: The child support guidelines have nothing to do with the situation of fathers like John, who are struggling to remain actively involved in their children’s lives. Applying such an approach to a father like John is only adding insult to injury – contributing to the sense of betrayal and isolation that he feels as he sees his parental role taken away from him.

The full picture

Society tends to be sympathetic to the plight of the mother. The media often tell us about how hard divorced mothers must struggle to maintain a lifestyle that can approach what they had when they were married.

But, if things are hard for mothers, it doesn’t mean they are easy for fathers. What happens with divorce is that the family’s expenses are much higher, while the income usually isn’t. Two households are created when there used to be one. Housing costs alone typically account for a high percentage of the family’s budget before divorce; and now there are two homes to maintain.

Unfortunately, the adversarial divorce exacerbates the situation by wasting both parents’ resources in legal battles. In addition, it creates a mentality of “me first” instead of “how can we conserve the limited resources we have?”.

Saying that mothers live less well after divorce amounts to not showing the whole picture. The harsh reality is that divorce significantly affects both parents’ lifestyles. In fact, after factoring in child support payments, many fathers end up being much worse off financially than their ex-wives, as we’ll see in the following. 

Income shifts

The effect of the child support payments is to shift tax-free income to the mother – while alimony/maintenance is tax-deductible, child support is not. Conversely, the father’s after-tax income is dramatically reduced, as can be seen in the following example.

This is the hypothetical case of a middle-class family with two children. The father’s pre-tax income is $4,000 a month, and the mother’s income is $2,000 a month. The father pays typical child support that is 25% of his pre-tax income. The following chart shows how much money each parent actually has to spend each month, after taking into account child support and taxes.




Monthly gross income 



Income taxes: Fed, state & local
after deductions & exemptions



Child support   



  ------- -------

Net monthly income




In addition to child support per se, the father may be required to pay for additional expenses (all or part of health insurance, day care, etc). In some states, he may also have to contribute to mortgage payments. For instance, in Maryland, the custodial parent gets use and possession of the family’s house for three years – with the non-custodial parent required to pay half or all of the mortgage during that period on top of child support.

Even without these additions, the father in our example is left with $1,800 a month, and the mother with $2,500.
The point of this example is not to say that the mother is better off after divorce than she was before – she’s not. Neither the father nor the mother is doing well.

The point is that it’s going to be even harder for the father to afford a home where his children can really feel at home with him. Their real home is with the mother; they are kind of camping when they visit their father. This makes a mockery of joint legal custody.

The above is an excerpt from: Still a Dad

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