By Jennifer M. Paine
Attorney, Cordell & Cordell, P.C., Detroit office
Note: This is Part 1 of a four-part series on child support.
Ever feel like a walking checkbook? Billy needs braces? Time to write a check. Little Jillian fell off the swing set? Send Dad the doctor bill. And school supplies? “Your child support only covered half the cost of Tommy’s TI-superduper calculator and none of Susie’s,” your ex says, “so here’s a copy of the receipt. Look, I don’t want to argue with you. Their teachers say they need these. Just pay up,” her hand rolling out, palm up, waiting for your cash.
“And by the way,” she continues, “they don’t want to visit this weekend.” She steps back into her car and drives away from your meeting point, the McDonald’s on Main Street, the exhaust rattling, the kids playing with i-Pods in the backseat. You had the whole weekend planned.
It seems fundamentally unfair to force parents to pay child support even if they do not receive or cannot exercise parenting time. Yet, this is what the law in fact allows for families across the country. If this scene feels all too familiar to you, you are not alone. You may be tempted to stop paying your support, and some parents do. You should not. Just what can you do? Read on.
Historically, judges had discretion to award child support. That means, there was no formula or mandatory rule to follow. Most judges based their decision on two factors, the parents’ ability to pay and the amount of support their child needed. The judge may have also consider the parents’ resources and personal needs, the child’s age and health, and the parties’ pre-divorce standard of living to determine what amount of support was “reasonable.”
The standard was, to say the least, amorphous. As you might surmise, the amount of support actually ordered varied from county to county, even from judge to judge in the same county. Divorcing parents could not predict the amount the judge would order and, therefore, were less likely to settle other terms in their divorce, such as spousal support and property division. The awards appeared arbitrary, and some were. Empirical evidence from the mid-1980s census shows that, as a direct result, child support payors developed a disrespect for child support orders. Many stopped paying support altogether. In 1985, for example, less than half the parents owing child support actually paid the full amount due, and more than one quarter paid none at all.
Without child support, needy newly-single parents turned to the federal government for financial aid. Their numbers plagued an already burdened welfare program.
Note: This is Part 1 of a four-part series on child support. Part 2 will focus on child support guidelines.
Jennifer M. Paine is an Associate Attorney in the Detroit, Michigan office of Cordell & Cordell P.C. She is licensed to practice in Michigan, and has been admitted pro hac vice in Illinois, Ohio, and the United States Court of Federal Claims. Ms. Paine received her BA in English and Mathematics from Albion College and graduated Summa Cum Laude. She received her Juris Doctorate from MSU College of Law and graduated Summa Cum Laude.