Close the pay gap? Get dads involved? Shared visitation, no child support

pay gap

In my work writing about women, money and family in the United States, there are two prevailing issues:

  • Dads who do not live with their kids are barely involved. (Just 22% of dads who live apart from their children see them more than once weekly, per Pew.)
  • That pay gap will. not. close.

Here's the answer:

Start all custody negotiations at a default 50/50 parenting and custody, with no child support or alimony.

Joint custody child support

While there is a great movement towards equally shared visitation time in at least 30 states, the majority of family courts still default to some version of a model that has prevailed in separated families for decades:

  • Dad pays mom child support, and maybe alimony.
  • Mom is primary custodian and dad gets “Friday night special” — every-other-weekend, and Wednesday night dinners.

This antiquated arrangement only reinforces the sexist notions:

  • Women are incapable of supporting themselves.
  • Fathers are inferior parents.

Indeed, this outdated agreement holds women, men, families and the economy back.

I can tell you first-hand it is a heck of a lot harder to get ahead professionally and financially if you are the sole – or majority care provider for children.

If we unburdened the 10 million single mothers in this country from this responsibility (64 percent of millennial moms have had at least one baby outside of marriage, according to Johns Hopkins), and forced fathers to be true co-parents, gender economics in this country would look very, very different.

How does time sharing effect the pay gap?

When parenting time is shared equally, single moms would have so, so much more time to invest in their careers and businesses.

When parenting is equal, moms are are not the default caregiver when kids barf in the night and need to stay home from school.

Moms would not automatically be the parent that must leave work early for teacher meetings, or systematically forgo career-advancing work travel or evening networking events.

More shared parenting time affords moms much-needed time to rest, exercise and develop relationships and interests outside of their kids that make women happier mothers and more productive citizens.

When dads not only have equal parenting time, but also equal parenting responsibility, fathers are forced to make the hard work-life decisions that women have known for generations, leveling the workplace playing field.

Decisions like whether to take time off after having a child, or scale back a career to nurture young children — the very hard decisions that women have made for generations, and are at the root of the pay gap.

Finally, equally shared parenting equalizes parents not only in separated and divorced families, but all families. Equally shared parenting laws change family culture. If equal parenting were the norm, this would create a collective mind shift at home, work and in the bedroom.


Listen to my Like a Mother podcast episode on the topic:

Other ways to listen: iTunes  ♦ Stitcher   ♦ TuneIn   ♦ SoundCloud Google Play


Related: How to divorce like a feminist

Child support reform promotes father involvement

Fatherlessness is a public health crisis, that affects every facet of American life. Antiquated child support laws and collection enforcement are at the root of this issue.

A whole body of work studying father involvement finds that when a child is raised without active involvement of a father, they are likely to suffer:

  • Diminished sense of physical and emotional security (children consistently report feeling abandoned when their fathers are not involved in their lives)
  • Behavioral and social problems, including with friendships
  • Poor academic performance. 71% of high school dropouts are fatherless
  • High crime, as 85% of youth in prison have an absent father
  • Fatherless children are more likely to have sex before age 16, not use contraception during first intercourse, and become teenage parents, and transmit STDs.
  • More likely to use and abuse alcohol and other drugs.
  • 90% of runaway kids have an absent father.

-mental health disorders (father absent children are consistently overrepresented on a wide range of mental health problems, particularly anxietydepression and suicide)

-life chances (as adults, fatherless children are more likely to experience unemployment, have low incomes, remain on social assistance, and experience homelessness)

-future relationships (father absent children tend to enter partnerships earlier, are more likely to divorce or dissolve their cohabiting unions, and are more likely to have children outside marriage or outside any partnership)

-mortality (fatherless children are more likely to die as children, and live an average of four years less over the life span)

50/50 parenting time sharing is better for all families, everywhere

If women know they can never rely on a man outside of marriage for income, we will make different, better decision about our careers, and money.

When divorce courts force both sexes to participate in the workforce and with children in equal measure, that message trickles into all families — including married and single-people homes.

When both sexes are forced by court or social pressure to parent equally, men and women on corporate boards, in Congress, in C-suites, and on down make different, better policies for workers and families.

Plus, this presumed, equal and fair arrangement relieves courts of the endless bickering and petitions that distract from extreme cases — like actual abuse and neglect — for which deviation from this rule would be appropriate.

Strong workforce participation by women is great for children, as studies have shown. Strong workforce participation by women is great for the economy, national security and societal stability.

I know the pushback:

I am the better parent. I am the mother! I don't want him to have more than 30% visitation. It's not good for the kids.

If he is safe to be with the kids 30% — or 10%, or 20% — he is safe to be with them 50%.

There are 60 peer-reviewed studies that find that shared parenting is best for children in separated and divorced families.

This is true even in cases where there is high conflict between the parents, or one is richer than the other.

Just because the child lived in your uterus does not mean you get more say in how they are raised.

Men will never step into their full father potential if we keep assuming they are the inferior parent.

We agreed I would give up my career to stay with the kids, and it is not fair that my standard of living is compromised because he wants to divorce!

You're not a child, and he is not your father. You entered into marriage knowing the risks.

You are an adult woman who as political and economic rights that you chose not to exercise.

That was not a good decision, and I am sorry you made them, but it is not another person's responsibility to pay for those decisions.

If you want a higher standard of living, you are free to pursue a career that will afford you that.

Now that he has the kids 50%, you have plenty of time to do that.

How stay at home moms hurt gender equality

He is supposed to take the kids half the time but never shows up. I still shouldn't pursue child support?

That is a decision that you have to make.

Yes, if he doesn't care for the kids half the time, he should step up and care for them financially.

But keep in mind these things:

  • He will always and forever resent giving you that money and it will be a wedge between you in any co-parenting.
  • Psychologically, taking that money will likely hold you back. He is a man you are no longer tied to romantically, and from whom you are (or should be) striving to create a separate life. Money ties people together. You risk being dependent on him. Tread carefully.

My kids are so little! My baby is nursing! 50/50 doesn't make sense!

I agree. This is about being reasonable and what is good for the greater sum, without abandoning the individuals.

Nursing babies and their moms, temporarily, require certain circumstances.

So do disabled adults, and deployed military.  move to default equal visitation and no support will not be painless.

But they are necessary steps in an evolution towards financial and parental equity.

Please listen to Terry Brennan, of Leading Women for Shared Parenting, explain why default every-other-weekend visitation leads to absentee fathers.

Note that in cases where ‘standard’ visitation is awarded — every-other-weekend — fathers become depressed and non-involved, and within 3 years, one study found, 40 percent of children in an unequal visitation arrangement had lost complete touch with their non-custodial parents, which are nearly always the father.

Have a listen:


Other ways to listen: iTunes  ♦ Stitcher   ♦ TuneIn   ♦ SoundCloud Google Play


Related documentary and books on shared parenting:

Recommended shared parenting documentary: Divorce Corp

Kickass Single Mom, Be Financially Independent, Discover Your Sexiest Self, and Raise Fabulous, Happy Children, By: Emma Johnson

Blend, The Secret to Co-Parenting and Creating a Balanced Family, By: Mashonda Tifrere

Co-parenting with a Toxic Ex: What to Do When Your Ex-Spouse Tries to Turn the Kids Against You, By: by Amy J. L. Baker, PhD and Paul R Fine, LCSW

Divorce Poison: How to Protect Your Family from Bad-mouthing and Brainwashing, By: Dr. Richard A. Warshak

Are you part of the Facebook group, Millionaire Single Moms? No income requirement, though BIG GOALS and a positive MINDSET required! Join now!

Read More: A dad explains: “Why I don’t see my child.”

How to get dads involved in divorce and separated families

Why single parents should put their kids second when dating

About Emma Johnson

Emma Johnson is a veteran money journalist, noted blogger, bestselling author and an host of the award-winning podcast, Like a Mother with Emma Johnson. A former Associated Press Financial Wire reporter and MSN Money columnist, Emma has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Glamour, Oprah.com, U.S. News, Parenting, USA Today and others. Her #1 bestseller, The Kickass Single Mom (Penguin), was named to the New York Post's ‘Must Read” list.Emma regularly comments on issues of modern families, gender equality, divorce, sex and motherhood for outlets like CNN, Headline News, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fox & Friends, CNBC, NPR, TIME, MONEY, O, The Oprah Magazine and The Doctors. She was named Parents magazine’s “Best of the Web,” “Top 15 Personal Finance Podcasts” by U.S. News, and a “Most Eligible New Yorker” by New York Observer.A popular speaker, Emma presented at the United Nations Summit for Gender Equality. Read more about Emma here.

226 Comments

  1. SJ on August 27, 2018 at 11:16 am

    Oh my goodness. I love this post in so many ways. It’s refreshing because you never hear this point of view. I live in TN and when I got a divorce, I told my lawyer that I wouldn’t consider giving my ex every other weekend or anything like that. My ex was horrible to me but the kids need him and he loves the kids. I did get child support based on the calculator from the state because that’s what’s required. I think that’s a good thing because it helps to balance the standard of living in both homes. Did my $220 every two weeks get me rich? No. Did it help with my groceries? Yes. Now that I am booming in my Nashville real estate career, I am volunteralily going back to the lawyer to get rid of his child support. We make the same amount now, so that’s fair.

    I love your point that we need to hold men to a higher standard and have a 50/50 balance with the kids. Nursing moms and babies are a totally different thing, but if we are ever going to balance the power in our society (which would be a very good thing for everyone), we must have balance in the children’s division of households.

  2. TRISH on September 5, 2018 at 11:15 am

    Wow. FORCE the dad into spending 50% of the time with the kids. You knew the risks when you got married. Dad will resent you for having to pay ANY child support.
    I’m starting to think Emma Johnson has a penis, left his wife and kids and wasn’t able to get the 50/50 shared custody arrangement that would let him off the hook for child support and force his exwife into giving up their original family values as quickly as he did.
    This article is a JOKE. There’s nothing wrong with having traditional family values where one parent works and the other stays home to raise the kids. I find it offensive that you look down at women who choose to give up thier careers to raise thier children- everything else you say is plain stupid (FORCE dad to take kids half the time? How would that be good for the kids dipshit? It’s do monumentally DUMB), but thinking I’m inferior to you bc you sacrificed your children’s sense of family and well being to prove you can work is just insulting and awful. I gave up my career knowing my kids would benefit from ME being thier MOTHER, and I knew crap stains like you would think I’m pulling the women’s lib cry down by doing it. But I’m not, I didn’t. Tards like you make me proud that I made THE REALLY hard choice of being a stay at home. Just because I CAN work and pan my kids off to whomever doesn’t mean I should. What your suggesting isn’t nearly as hard as having to stick to thr original family values children are born into after a divorce. Wtf? My ex doesn’t want anything to do with me OR his kids, which is fine- but he’s paying for it. He’s more than welcome to start a whole new life elsewhere – but thankfully the judge didn’t absolve him of his responsibilities to his old life.
    You are so bitter sounding. Please, take some yoga and find a therapist. Then ask your kids how they are doing. IF you can handle the response. You might not like it. If you do that just means you beat thier self esteem down so far they will only tell you what you want to hear.

    • BG on February 20, 2019 at 1:18 am

      I find it offensive that you expect the father to pay for you to have the luxury to stay home. That is your choice and your choice only…he shouldn’t have to support you! Did you not partake in the decision to have children? Do you not understand your responsibility to support them? How will they know how to be independent or even develop social skills when they’re at home with mom all day? Mothers refuse to admit that THEY need to feel needed by their children. It is one of the most selfish acts when raising a child. Truth is they need their father just as much as they need their mother. Clearly, after divorce, family values are no longer relevant as they need to be reestablished in separate households. Your placement of judgement on another proves your lack of understanding in the matter and how entitled you feel to be support by a person that was NEVER obligated to.

    • Krystal Woolley on February 24, 2019 at 11:42 pm

      I agree with the points of this article insighting a feel of looking down upon women who stay at home. I didn’t want to get a divorce but had too for the mental safety of myself and the teachings that would have shown our children.

      I filed for custody because of fear of his actions and choices he was making with his addictions. I didn’t and don’t want our kids raised with those ideas or thoughts. I also filed for support as I wasn’t able to pay off my college fees to finish my degree because of how he made me feel about being able to spend money by his words and actions.

      We have shared now but the kids don’t get to see him as much due to his job and his living arrangements. I make an effort to help find time for them to see him as I know it’s important to them and him. He has made changes for the better yes and we do communicate better but until I have my college fees paid off and my degree done then yes I will continue to ask for support.

      I love being a mom and miss being a wife to the person I love but being to feel infuior because I’m a divorced mom with custody and support which I have yet to receive and it’s been almost a year since filed is wrong.

      Sure there are those that abuse and use the system and that is wrong but we shouldn’t be made to look less than because of it.

      • Krystal Woolley on February 24, 2019 at 11:47 pm

        My post was in reply to a post by Trish which is why I said agree with her post.

  3. Bobby Dad on November 15, 2018 at 7:52 pm

    It’s hard for me to spend time with my son because his mother has all my money. When I do have him, of which is Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday every week, I never have any money to go hang out and do stuff with him. Plus his mom takes all the money I give her and gets him video games. I dont have video game systems in my house, we love the outdoors. So when he is at my house all he wants to do is play video games. He now says he’s bored at my house and would rather stay with his mom, due to her having full influence in that Manor. I’m still his baseball coach. I chose Tues to Thurs every week to be more involved with his studies. Im a teacher, health and pe.. if we are to teach our children to be fair, we must teach them how to share.

  4. Sergio machado on February 17, 2019 at 1:53 pm

    What a fantastic article! Visionary, objective and balanced. Every judge in every court, every family law attorney and every state legislator should read it. Completely agree — society is always in a state of flux, change is constant and yet family law is locked I. Antiquated precepts and creating lots of problems. With divorce rate so high in this country, laws need even more change. The system is setup to allow exponential abuse and in the end, lawyers win and children are the big losers. Well stated Ms Johnson!!

  5. BG on February 20, 2019 at 1:09 am

    This is fantastic! Mothers AND fathers have an EQUAL responsibility to support your child(ren). This means emotionally, physically and financially. Just because he doesn’t want anything to do with you doesn’t mean he should have less time with the kids. Just because he doesn’t want anything to do with you, doesn’t mean you should try and collect max support. Who is that really benefiting? Get some independence! Support yourself and your child(ren). I work full time and have kids. I also cook dinner and clean house. And guess what? We have plenty of time together to foster a healthy loving relationship. Sure, I would have liked of been a stay at home mom. But I made a decision to have kids and I acknowledge my equal responsibility to support them. Don’t blame the farther for a choice you made to stay home. Most fathers wouldn’t be forced into spending more time. Many are fighting the system whom claims their main goal is what’s best for the child, for more time. 50/50 is what’s best for the child so long as it’s a safe environment. What makes mothers have this sense of entitlement to more? How is that allowing for a positive, growing relationship with the child and father? AND when only 20-30% is granted because YOU didn’t agree to more…don’t talk about what a POS dad he is that he doesn’t spend more time with the kids. YOU wouldn’t allow it because you then lose control of the situation. If both parents could just put their pride to the side and TRULY only consider what’s best for the child, we could shift focus to them. They are the ones that matter the most in these situations.

  6. Marie on February 20, 2019 at 8:45 am

    A lot of if’s in this theory. Here’s one; “If men know they cannot skirt their parental responsibilities, they will be more thoughtful about bringing babies into the world.” L.O.L. Are you kidding? 7 Billion people on this planet, hundreds of years of evidence to repute that, but you think that’s a sound opinion? Good grief. 50/50 responsibliity *sounds awesome. Welcome to the real world sugar. It may even work in your life, good for you, doesn’t make it the majority experience. Sorry, but being delusional or completely unaware of the reality outside your own experience does not make you anywhere close to “kick ass” in my book.

  7. Michelle on February 20, 2019 at 11:54 am

    I have seen the 50/50 work beautifully. It is all about the kids being raised in a true coparenting style. I would have loved this when my son was growing up. Every family is different but, if that is the standard then we can adjust for individual circumstances. As a society, we have forgotten how important it is to have children and fathers together. Dads are not just throw away parents. If dads do not see their children enough, they can’t relate to them. They do not get the benefit of experience with their children. The father of a toddler is very different than a father of a teenager. If they do not grow with the children they detach themselves. Mothers need the time away from children to grow as people. If we can move towards this goal even a little, our children will be better for it.

  8. Lynn on February 25, 2019 at 10:53 am

    FORCE is never a good plan. In my situation, this would have been devastating in so many ways, especially on the children.

  9. Megan on March 4, 2019 at 2:30 pm

    I did not fight my ex husband for custody. He got 50/50 custody of our 3 daughters (11, 13 and 16) and the moment he got it, he stopped being a parent. He had been an awful husband. Mentally, emotionally and financially torturing me for almost 20 years. But he had turned over a new leaf and wanted to be the father that God instructed him to be.
    It was gut wrenching. He would leave the girls every night to go to his girlfriends house. Leave them for weekends at a time. My daughters would cry on Sunday when it was time to go back to his house. They hated moving from house to house every week. My oldest daughter stood up to him to stop the emotional abuse of her 2 younger sisters and he threw her out. The next day, he changed the locks and got a security system. He told her he would call the police if she ever came back. That was 5 years ago. He has never spoken to her again. He did the same thing to my youngest daughter. He has not spoken to her in 4 years. But all 3 of my daughters HATED the shared parenting. My middle daughter chose to do 2 weeks at a time when she turned 18. But it was still far from ideal.

    I did stay at home with my daughters, not because I was lazy or ignorant, but because I did not think someone else should be raising MY children. I’m not sorry. Those years were precious. And by FAR harder than working full time. Which is what I did after I got divorced.

    He was able to get a masters degree and go to work because I was taking care of our home. I cooked and cleaned and painted and sewed and gardened etc.

    He took every penny from our checking and savings. I had to borrow money to get a divorce. He also used the money from their college funds. Not every man deserves 50/50 custody. He spent little time with them when they were growing up and he fooled me into thinking he wanted to change that. He was only avoiding child support.

  10. Amanda on March 4, 2019 at 7:30 pm

    I agree with letting the father have their choice if they want 50/50 custody, kids should not be without their father. But there should be some kind of equalization out on the expenses of the kids, currently I am in the situation where the dad has shared custody and is expected (as per the provincial regluations) to pay $460 a month and doesnt pay it, nor does he pay or reimburse me for any extra curriculars or help me with expense for the kids when asked. I am out working 3 jobs to make ends meet, pay my bills and support my children because their father will not step up financially. So dont expect the dads, or moms that get shared custody (because it works both ways, just unfortunately moreso unfairly for the father) to pull their fair share of the weight of raising the kids just because they have access to the kids.

  11. Chuck on March 5, 2019 at 2:49 am

    Sad reading much of the comments. So many argue against co-parenting and have their version of why not. I am very curious if the other parent was given the opportunity to respond, if they would give a different story, or would it be the same? My guess is that only half the truth is being told in most instances.

  12. AbusedBankruptDad on March 5, 2019 at 10:10 pm

    Emma, I’m REALLY not sure where you get your data, but it’s probably somewhere around 1950’s. Even GOOGLE – the most liberal search engine on the planet – just published a study that indicates the gap has not only closed, it’s moved to women actualy being paid MORE than men for similar jobs, in similar circumstances. While I agree with shared custody, convincing parents isn’t usually the problem – it’s convincing the courts! Anytime there’s a dispute between co-parents before/during a divorce, and the courts get involved, MEN pay the price – in visitation, child support, etc. I’d love you to ask me how I know this, becuase I’m happy to provide detail. The short version of this: I asked for equal custody, custody evaluators recommended equal custody and the judge granted me 20%, which has since been eroded as a result of a cancer diagnosis in 2010. I have paid over $430K in child support alone, for 2 children, since 2006 and only two of those years have been higher on the income scale. My ex has earned MORE than me the past 2+ years, I have been unemployed and am now on disability which might be permanent. I have done everything to stay current on support, but the courts have done everything possible to prevent that, including forcing me to pay $33K in attorney’s fees and sanctions while unemployed – also setting the child support order at $2K/month, plus medical expenses and 1/2 of daycare. Once I had a new job, I was earning 1/4th that of my ex but the court’s refused to change the $2k/month award, then adding $400/month for arrears, seized my IRA and again denied a request for medical hardship. My medical expense are between $500-$900/month depending on sample dates. I was forced to forgo all medical care for 10 months, stil got behind on child support thus resulting in my now disability. Nobody has won becuase now, my disability income is even lower and I’m quite certain the courts will again refuse to acknowledge my disability income, resulting in more arrears. My ex cares not – even making statements like “I’m going to get as much out of you as I can before you die.” All of this has been expressed to the courts in California who routinely ignore me. And beyond that, they call me a liar, even though my presented evidence is irrefutable (federal unemployment statements, employer statements, check stubs, etc.). My civil rights have been routinely violated, especially under the Americans with Disabilities act where they effectively denied me the right to medical care for a federally recognized disability as a result of an illegal child support order.

    In short, my point? This is less about the parents and MORE about changing state laws and the courts themselves. As soon as the states stop being reimbursed 33-100% for every dollar they collect in child support under Title-IV, Section D of the HHS sectio of the Social Security Act, signed by Carter and reaffirmed by Clinton, the states will stop making family court a source of revenue…. Last year the feds reimbursed California $480M+ in matching funds. There is ZERO incentive for the courts to make fair and reasonable orders – they get paid for NOT doing that. And if the non-custodial parent can’t pay, they make money when they send him/her to jail…. it’s a racket. This is NO conspiracy theory – I’m happy to provide citations from federal documents to confirm what I’ve said. BTW – the family courts in 5 counties in California are under investigation by the FBI for RICO violations like the ones I just mentioned.

    Thanks for reading.

    • AbusedBankruptDad on March 5, 2019 at 10:14 pm

      BTW – my ex earns over $200K and has a $400K+ cash reserve bank account – not including her retirement accounts. I have ZERO and what little I have in retirement is being eroded by medical expenses.

  13. Katz on March 12, 2019 at 5:20 am

    There needs to be some incentives for the family unit to stay together. Men and women are not the same, they never will be. We are just different, with unique values. This article disregards women and couples who make conscious decisions to spend more time with their children instilling values they would like to pass down. Women make less than men and are not in leadership roles. Most studies point to the cause as time lost childbearing. Employers expect young women to have less time devoted to work because of family obligations. Google has paid women to preserve their fertility with the expectation that they will work harder and be more focused. Now women must also give up theirs inherent rights as mothers and their rights to bear children while also being screwed professionally and financially. Women who pursue careers are delaying childbirth and in many cases are no longer able to have babies. I guess if they focus too much on their career like the author suggests and take responsibility then it’s “their fault” for not devoting enough time to bearing children…. let’s blame women for everything! More and more women are deciding to avoid these toxic laws by having children on their own. More rights should be given to mothers but everything should be evaluated on a case by case. Men can move around and have children at 70 or 80 whereas women cannot. Our biology is not balanced to begin with and you cannot erase this with civilian laws and sing gumbaya 50/50 and everyone is happy. This is not the case.

  14. Katz on March 12, 2019 at 5:26 am

    People used to dream of having a family one day. Now most people are all about themselves. It is a “what about me” world that we live in. Sacrifice for the family simply does not occur but it should. We are becoming a lost society. Sad state of affairs.

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