The European Solution To America’s Child Support Problem

child s upportBy now, it is blatant that there are numerous flaws with the child support system in the United States.

The issues have been brought to the forefront after the incident in South Carolina where Walter Scott was shot and killed by a police officer after it is believed that he fled from the officer out of fear of being jailed for missed child support payments.

On Sunday, the New York Times published a detailed story that explained why the system is broken.

We hear all about the problems with the system. It’s punitive. It is based on outdated stereotypes. It makes it too easy for low-income fathers to fall behind. Etc.

What we don’t hear much about is how to realistically go about fixing these issues.

In an interesting article published on, Bryce Covert suggests that the U.S. should look to the model used in Europe as a possible solution. It is a compelling argument worth considering.

The article, titled “The Brilliant Idea From Europe That Could Revolutionize Child Support,” notes that as of 2010, every European country except the Netherlands guaranteed child support payments to custodial parents regardless of whether or not the noncustodial parent could pay. In Sweden, all custodial parents are guaranteed a child support payment from the government and then the government collects what it can from the noncustodial parents.

If the aim of child support is to get the custodial parent the support they need, then the system seems to work as 95 percent of the parents receive child support payments.

The article points out that any reform of this nature would need to be coupled with an overhaul in how what noncustodial parents owe is calculated.

In many states, child support doesn’t change even when a father is unemployed. The support is still based on the parent’s supposed earning capacity.

Many fathers pay as much as 65 percent of their wages in child support and arrearages to the state while 70 percent of the national uncollected child support debt is owed by noncustodial parents with no quarterly earnings or annual earnings below $10,000.

Child support debt is also allowed to accrue even if a parent ends up imprisoned, creating modern-day debtors’ prisons.

Irwin Garfinkel, a professor of social work at Columbia University, argues that the child support obligation should always be calculated as a percentage of the noncustodial parent’s actual income.

“That would protect the fathers,” he told “If you express the obligations as a percent of income, it would automatically reduce the amount of harassment possible.”

Of course, a guaranteed payment program would come at a cost. However, Garfinkel estimated that guaranteeing parents a payment even as high as $3,000 a year would cost the government $10 billion, which is a small drop of the overall $3.5 trillion budget Washington had in 2014.

Such a change should also be considered an investment that would surely yield enormous societal benefits. Single parents would have more income to invest in their children. Children would have more stable living environments, which would aid their development. And it would surely cure some of the ills caused by parental incarceration considering as many as 50,000 are behind bars for missed payments.

Obviously, there are numerous dynamics that would prevent the European system of child support from being used as a carbon-copy solution in the U.S. But at the very least, it offers a starting point that government leaders could examine and tweak to help fix many of the country’s woes.

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9 comments on “The European Solution To America’s Child Support Problem

    How is is that my husband is paying $55/week for one ex and $98/week for another ex (Each have 1 kid) and only brings home $200 each week. That is only $800/ month. Rent on the low averages $550/mo with no utilities paid. We have 2 babies and one has major health issues that make us travel far for treatment/multiple surgeries and care. We CAN’T afford to care for our children! Why do his others matter more when they don’t have the health issues ours does! His first ex getting more hasn’t worked in ages! She draws a check for being mentally unstable.. His second ex is fighting for disability and has been fit years! She had moved many times from one man to another using support from their felon butts and my husband to care for their daughter. That little girl has mental issues due to her mom abandoning her a couple of times. She even tells us that she knows her momma doesn’t want her! That is sick! She recently got married, I read that childsupport could possibly be lowered since she’s being supported in other means, is that correct? Can we get it lower because my babies are going to suffer until they are 8 and 9! No one can survive on $800/ month! Note: I got a part time job serving making $2.36/hr. Once I get my first two checks I have to report it to food stamps and we will lose our food stamps because our Gross income will be too much even though we will only bring home $1300 with $550 rent $400 utilities that leaves $350 for food, formula, diapers, car insurance, phone, household nececities, daycare, and many more expenses people forget about!!! Right now according to the state of AR, it cost $536/month to feed a family of 4…. Those numbers just don’t add up!!!

    I think it is a sad sorry state of affairs- my son-in-law makes about $3000. a month. he pays $1500. My daughter has few skills for earning money. They have one child.

    *They can’t afford rent $700. is a great price on rent where they live
    *The electricity is always in disconnect mode. they live where summer temps are triple digits norm
    *And food? Phones?

    They don’t qualify for any assistance at all. No food stamps, no food banks, no help from various charities. they make too much money and nobody gives a damn what the child support is.

    They get the kids every opportunity.

    There is no money for a lawyer.

    Funny twist on the purpose of child support. The purpose of child support and alimony is not simply to get the custodial parent what they need, but to ensure the custodial parent does not end up on government support. The primary driving factor is avoiding the need for government support.

    Having the government guarantee child support would be exactly opposite this original goal.

    Also, child support varies greatly. For well off family child support can be very extensive and far beyond what would be appropriate for government support.

    @HeligKo… Right on! I have a shared parenting arrangement with my ex husband, and the benefits are very obvious. I may not have a lot of money, but we each do what we can, and I think our children are much happier because of it. I think it also allows a higher level of respect between us, and neither of us harbor any resentment toward the other. My partner, however, is in a much different position with his ex. He’s actually suggested that I file for support to help offset what he pays, which should never be a driving factor. The system definitely needs to make some changes. It may create more financial stability for some families, but it also helps to keep other families in poverty. The model used for calculating child support is extremely outdated, and a majority of times it is extremely unfair to fathers… Especially the good ones that truly care for their children.

    The legal system is a joke! Needs overhauled, why is the parent collecting mostly the ladies! Why is it that kids are the ones that suffer when you get attorneys and judges involved. Why do you claim this site is for men when my ex wife uses an attorney from your site against me! Just saying!!!!

    @Rick child support rates as high as they are and that go up with the income of the payer are not merely there to keep a single parent off of welfare. To tell someone to just earn more is not the answer either. I don’t have many ways to earn more. I work a full time position that pays well, and increases in my pay will be taken out at a rate of 30%. So for every $100 I earn, I will pay roughly $33 to my ex-wife and $33 to the taxes, leaving me $33. That just doesn’t provide a lot of incentive for me look for promotions. The fix for child support is having a percentage of income based on actual earnings with both a floor and a ceiling on the amounts that are collected. If you earn too little to pay, then government services should kick in to assist. The other leg to this is default shared parenting laws that have a high burden to not follow if one of the parents wants shared parenting. The expenses are shared much more naturally that way. The concept that the children have a right to the lifestyle they were accustomed to when the parents were married needs to be taken out of child support calculations. Too many men are funding their ex-wives lifestyle with the children and are no longer able to afford for themselves what their incomes should be able to provide.

    How is this better? Sounds like welfare. Let the government foot the bill and then try to get it back from non-custodial parents. Despite the level of income, both parents should be responsible for the financial welfare of the child. If $10,000 a year isn’t enough to meet your obligations, the answer isn’t to let the government cover it, the answer is to earn more.

    At it’s core the CS system is intended to ensure that parents are supporting the children they create and not the government/taxpayers. Sure, it has problems, but this isn’t the solution.

    “Garfinkel estimated that guaranteeing parents a payment even as high as $3,000 a year would cost the government $10 billion”

    I pay $18,000 a year CS. Not sure $3000 is considered “high”.

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