A divorced dad once told me how he thought about child support. “My ex-wife committed the crime of taking my child away from me, and now I have to pay her for it.” I get it. That is how it feels to a non-custodial parent who never wanted the spouse and child to stop living with him (or her).
The law takes a different view: Even if your marriage did not work out, each parent has a duty to contribute to the child’s financial support and general well-being. The custodial parent contributes financially by paying his or her share for food, shelter, clothing, etc. If you love your child, have custody, and can be employed without causing harm to your child, then you should probably have a job.
Financial support from the non-custodial parent is also the child’s right. That parent is helping to pay for what the child needs. It may feel as if you are giving money to your ex, but the support is for your child. Without that financial support, your child’s life would probably be much worse. If you love your child and are able to earn a living, then you probably should be paying child support.
The thing is, the child may really need it. An appallingly high percentage of kids who live in single parent families live in poverty. I can tell you from my own and my children’s experience, living in or at the edge of poverty too often brings deprivation, suffering, and a lack of safety. I have known single parents who declined, for various reasons, to seek child support from the other parent. The results for the children often included having an over-worked, exhausted, frequently unavailable parent.
Some single parents do fine supporting their kids financially and psychologically — until it is time for college. Then the absence of the financial support the non-custodial parent could have been paying for the past 15 years means that the single parent has not been able to save much money to help the child go to college. Earning a college degree makes a big difference in a person’s earning power for the rest of his or her life. Finishing college without huge debts for student loans puts a young adult way ahead of the peers who will be repaying their loans for the next twenty or thirty years.
The Commonwealth of Virginia has guidelines for calculating what amount of child support is appropriate in various situations. If you know the number of children, the gross incomes of both parents, who pays how much for work-related child care expenses, who pays how much for health insurance for the children, and other relevant factors, then a state-certified family mediator, a family law attorney, or someone at the nearest state office of Child Support Enforcement can do the worksheet calculations for you.
For those who want to take a detailed look at what each household needs, a list of common monthly expenses appears here. Using it may help you with your planning.
Bottom line: be a good parent. Love and support your child more than you hate your ex.
If you have a story about child support to share, you can comment anonymously on this page or write to me privately at mediatorQ@gmail.com.
If you would like to discuss whether working with a family mediator would help you and other members of your family plan well for your child, contact Dr. Virginia Colin at mediatorQ@gmail.com or 703.864.2101.