By Ben Attwood
English family law attorney
On the international stage, the British and the Americans often like to present a united front. Our countries share many similarities. DadsDivorce.com is even visited by more people in England and Wales than any other country outside of the United States.
However, that does not mean that we have the same laws when it comes to divorce. The law in the U.S. is further complicated by the fact that it can vary from state to state.
As an English attorney focusing on divorce law, I am very familiar with the way the law deals with children when a relationship ends in England and Wales.
But if I compare the laws of England to, say, the state of Florida, we will find some of the similarities and differences between the two systems.
In both places, child custody arrangements are determined by what is in the child’s best interests. The starting point is that the child should have frequent and continuing contact with each parent unless there is a good reason why this should not happen.
When considering what arrangements are best for a child when their parents’ relationship ends, both legal systems take into account factors which deal with the needs of that particular child. However, there are some differences in the make-up and weighting of those factors.
In England and Wales, there is a concise welfare checklist that the court must consider. In Florida, many more factors are considered, which may potentially make parents in Florida feel that the court has looked at issues relating to their child in a much more comprehensive way than those in England.
In England and Wales, there is no presumption that a child will automatically live with their mother. There are an increasing numbers of fathers who are the primary caretaker for their child. These fathers were usually the main caretakers for the child before their relationship ended, with their wives often being the main breadwinner. It is also much more common now for the care of a child to be shared between their parents, which reflects the fact that both parents now often work.
The financial element of child custody cannot be ignored. Florida uses certain guidelines called the “Income Shares Model” to calculate child support obligations. The guidelines are based on the combined income of both parents and take into account the financial contributions of both parents. Child support orders normally contain a provision for health insurance.
In England and Wales, unless there is an agreement between the parents, the court cannot deal with child support. This is the responsibility of the Child Support Agency (CSA).
When calculating child support, the CSA only considers the income of the parent that the child does not live with. This applies whether the parent with whom the child lives is a pauper or a millionaire.
They then apply a formula, which will mean that the paying parent usually has to pay between 15% and 25% of their net income as child support, depending upon the number of children. There will, however, be a discount applied to the calculation for the number of overnight stays that the child has with the paying parent each week. This can lead to arguments about how often a child stays overnight, as the more overnight stays the lower the amount of child support paid.
Ben Attwood is a Family Law Associate at Pannone, U.K.-based divorce solicitors.