By Irving H. Zaroff, JD LMFT and Dana Schutz, MA LMFT

Do what you can, with what you have, right where you are.
~Theodore Roosevelt

Ever wonder how child support laws came to be? When children would be abandoned; or a mother left on her own unable support her children; and charities couldn’t provide for all; the government ended up paying the cost. Where did the government’s money come from? It comes from the taxpayer, of course. Eventually, laws were passed to hold parents responsible for the needs of the children. They could no longer just walk away. Thus, child support obligations make sure children are provided for with government assistance as a last resort.

For many it seems the obligation for parents to provide for their children – even when they live apart from the other parent – is a natural responsibility. Yet, in divorce, child support is often a contentious issue. In California, as in many other jurisdictions, there are laws that set out minimum financial obligations for parents based on their tax-adjusted income and the amount of time minor children spend with each parent. This has led to the unfortunate situation where parents fight over time with the children, not with regard to what’s best for the child, but how it affects child support obligations.

The law says parents are responsible to support their children in a manner suitable to the child’s circumstances. The court will look at the circumstances (or standard of living) during the marriage. Getting both parents, with two households, to the same standard they enjoyed in one household is a difficult feat.

Another interesting aspect of child support is the question of how the support payments are used. Clearly it isn’t for the child’s “spending money.” It is geared toward food, clothing, shelter, education and health. Often some of these expenses are “indirect” assistance to the child. The fact that the receiving parent benefits from the support isn’t relevant to the main purpose. What is important is that the obligation exists and it’s best seen as a parental duty to provide for the children.

In coming issues we plan on addressing what are additional child support obligations (i.e., extracurricular activities, healthcare, etc.), how does support change and what does the law say about enforcement.


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