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.
- Child support is unfair and needs to be reformed.
Here’s the answer:
Start all custody negotiations at a default 50/50 equally shared parenting time and custody, with no child support or alimony.
- Why is child support so unfair to fathers
- Child support reform promotes father involvement
- 50/50 parenting and time-sharing
Why is child support so unfair to fathers?
While the world is changing for the better in many ways, the majority of child support payors are men. Here are all the reasons this is unfair to dads:
- Child support is built on the presumption that one parent (mothers) care for the children while another (father) pays for them. This shoehorns men and women into sexist roles, with men forced to be the breadwinner.
- Often, whether by law or practice, child support is tied to the amount of time a man is allowed to spend with their children — heightening an already adversarial family court system, and making men pay to see their children.
- Child support calculations rarely factor in a man’s ability to afford payments, and in states where failure to pay leads to jail time, forces poor men trapped in a cycle of imprisonment, unemployment, and more imprisonment. Meanwhile, no money is paid in child support, and fatherlessness is perpetuated, as outlined in this New York Times article:
Though the threat of jail is considered an effective incentive for people who are able but unwilling to pay, many critics assert that punitive policies are trapping poor men in a cycle of debt, unemployment and imprisonment.
The problem begins with child support orders that, at the outset, can exceed parents’ ability to pay. When parents fall short, the authorities escalate collection efforts, withholding up to 65% of a paycheck, seizing bank deposits and tax refunds, suspending driver’s licenses and professional licenses, and then imposing jail time.
“Parents who are truly destitute go to jail over and over again for child support debt simply because they’re poor,” said Sarah Geraghty, a lawyer with the Southern Center for Human Rights, which filed a class-action lawsuit in Georgia on behalf of parents incarcerated without legal representation for failure to pay. “We see many cases in which the person is released, they’re given three months to pay a large amount of money, and then if they can’t do that they’re tossed right back in the county jail.”
Skip Child Support. Go to Jail. Lose Job. Repeat. — The New York Times
While many assume child support mandatory in divorce — it does not have to be. If you settle out of court through a low-cost online divorce service, you can negotiate joint, 50/50 custody, equal parenting time, no or lower child support, and any other arrangements that you and your child’s other parent agree to.
If you go to family court, however, a judge will likely apply your state’s child support calculator, with no flexibility.
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 lack of 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 anxiety, depression and suicide)
- As adults, fatherless children are more likely to experience unemployment, have low incomes, remain on social assistance, and experience homelessness)
- Poor 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)
- Higher mortality rates (fatherless children are more likely to die as children, and live an average of four years less over the life span)
50/50 parenting and 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 decisions 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.
How 50/50 parenting and time-sharing affect 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 not the default caregiver when kids barf in the night and need to stay home from school.
50/50 custody means 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 equal 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.
This survey of 2,279 single moms found a direct correlation between time-sharing equality, and the women’s income and attitudes about motherhood: more time equality meant more income, and more satisfaction with parenting.
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, joint physical custody equalizes parents not only in separated and divorced families, but all families. Laws supporting 50/50 custody change family culture. If equal parenting were the norm, this would create a collective mind shift at home, work and in the bedroom.
After all, time and again when asked how we will ever close the pay gap, experts cite affordable child care. Having half of the time off from your kids, who are in the safe and loving care of the other parent, is as good as it gets. No expensive state or federal budgets required! No politically charged policy to pass! JUST SPLIT TIME EQUALLY BETWEEN PARENTS!
Celebrities practicing 50/50 equal co-parenting:
- Brad Pit and Angelina Jolie
- Bradley Cooper
- Rob Kardashian
- Chris Pratt and Anna Faris
- Kristin Cavallari and Jay Cutler
Common concerns about 50/50 custody, no child support
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%.
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.
However, if you work on practicing equally shared co-parenting, you may find that both parents can grow in their parenting — and know that their children benefit from it. More tips on how to co-parent in this post.
Men will never step into their full father potential if we keep assuming they are the inferior parent. In fact, many men and women both attest to the fact that fathers really improved their parenting after divorce. These parents say that this happened because:
- They were forced to — the mom wasn’t there all the time to swoop in when parenting was stressful. This is hardly surprising. Parenting is not rocket science, and men and women are born equipped for the job. Keep in mind that humanity has thrived based on the model of very young, uneducated people raising other to adulthood. Parenting is not a higher calling requiring of special skills or education.
- There was no mom nearby micromanaging his parenting. Now alone with the kids, the dad now had room to grow into the father he was meant to be.
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.
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.
If today you commit to 50/50 parenting starting at age 1 with increased time with the father now, that defuses conflict and builds trust that the spirit of your agreement is indeed fair.
A broader societal move to default, equal parenting and no child support will not be painless. But they are necessary steps in an evolution towards financial and parental equity.
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% of children in an unequal visitation arrangement had lost complete touch with their non-custodial parents, which are nearly always the father.
Bottom line: Why not to fight your ex for child support, alimony or other money
Money is often cited as the No. 1 thing divorcing couples fight over. Financial disagreements clog the courts and wrack up attorney bills — not to mention burn untold units of stress and misery for each party, their children and anyone within earshot.
This money-related financial tension carries over after breakups and divorce. Often, women tell me that they can't move forward with their lives because they are stuck financially because of money their ex owes. They tell me: I can't afford to go back to school / advance my career by traveling or taking additional responsibilities because there is no money for child care — because he won't pay.
He may very well owe you that money. Morally and legally, you may be entitled to it.
But sometimes you can be so right, you are wrong. After all, the average sum of child supported ordered monthly is less than $300, and total child support owed is actually paid just 40 percent of the time. What if you let that all go and focused on earning big, big money. I want every woman to understand what it feels like to be financially independent. Only then do you truly step into your power, and live your life in the biggest, most authentic way possible.
1. It costs you more in legal fees than you stand to receive
Life is not fair. There are laws designed to protect women and children in divorce, and there is also the universal law of what is just. But there is also the legal system, and it is messed up, unfair and is designed to support mainly the rich. Unless you're Elin Nordegren and Tiger Woods, there is often a very low threshold to cross before it stops making sense to spend money on lawyers to get what you are owed. Do the math. Then take a deep breath. Let the breath go. And let that money go, too.
2. You're fighting for money he doesn't have
You can't get blood from a stone, as the old adage goes. Sure, he may owe you tens of thousands of dollars in back child support. You could have the courts take his car and send him to jail. But if you honestly know that he doesn't have that cash, do you really want to do that? Yes? What do you get in return?
3. You're building a lifestyle around someone else's money — that you may never get
When you create a budget based on money you get from someone else, you are dependent on them. This is never a good idea. For financial reasons, that money may never materialize — or suddenly disappear. Men's child support and alimony doesn't show up if he loses his job, becomes disabled and cannot work, dies, refuses to pay for whatever reason, or has another child and is allowed by the courts to pay less. Plus, don't you just want to stop fighting and earn your own money? Doesn't that sound really, really delicious — to never be dependent on him or another man again?
4. You're fighting for money in divorce out of spite
Anger and spite are normal. God knows I've spent a lot of time being pissed at my ex! But exuding all that negative energy to take revenge is not a good reason to fight for money — even if you're entitled to it. Good reasons include providing a better life for yourself and your kids and/or because the money is genuinely yours.
5. He needs the money more than you do
Maybe each of your financial situations have changed. Maybe you have indeed moved on and are now killing it financially. Maybe he lost his job and is struggling. Maybe you're both stable, but you see that the money in question could help him out a whole lot more than it could help you. And now that you've moved forward, and you are no longer spiteful and angry, you have the energy to do the right thing.
6. Fighting for money is exhausting and bad for the kids
Divorce is one of the most stressful, draining crises a person can go through. In many cases — especially if there are children and significant assets involved — it is worth taking your time with a good lawyer to negotiate a fair settlement. But until the mailman delivers the manilla envelope containing your signed divorce decree, you will likely feel that your whole world is in limbo. Letting some stuff go moves everyone forward — including the kids.
After all, the more conflict between you and your ex, for whatever reason, means the children suffer at the hands of it. He might legally owe you, but sometimes you can be so right you're wrong.
Co-parenting is your priority now, and that is hard to do peacefully if you are fighting over money. Read my tips on how to co-parent with your ex, peacefully, as well as all the science-based research on why equally shared parenting is best.
One of the first co-parenting apps, and widely used app, OurFamilyWizard, which features chat, information storage (like pediatrician and teacher contact info, prescriptions, etc.), and financial record-keeping. 30-day free trial, discounts for military families, and a program to provide OurFamilyWizard free to low-income families. Each parent can add unlimited numbers of other people for free, including children, grandparents, step and bonus parents, as well as attorneys.
7. You hold yourself back when you fight your ex for money
Deepak Chopra tells us that human beings have infinite energy, and I accept that to be true. But we are also physical beings living in the real world, and a girl only has so much energy to go around.
When you are dependent on his money, you are dependent on HIM. Dependence is never healthy. It holds you back, keeps you embroiled in a romantic relationship that is over, with someone who you likely don't care for much.
You have a choice: Spend your time, energy and power to fight with him, or invest that time and energy and power in yourself to earn far more money than he owes you from his 401(k). After all, when it comes to earning and building wealth, the sky is the limit!
My mantra: The best revenge is living well.
Related documentary and books on shared parenting:
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