The Atlanta Journal Constitution and the so-called Family Scholars Blog are all upset over Georgia’s attempt to correct inequities in its child support guideline. The AJC says it’s going to make children live on mac and cheese, and the Family Scholars see equally grim consequences:
The “second family” who actually has the dad in the home still typically gets a lot more than the “first” family kids who don’t live with him. And of course the dad bears some responsibility for bearing new children if he did not feel he could adequately care for them. So while I’m sympathetic to the needs of the second family children, it’s also the case that their parents are married and they are benefitting in tangible and intangible ways from that situation, while too often the kids of a father’s earlier marriage suffer a dramatic drop in family income, social capital, and family connectedness that the states, even if they wanted to, could not fully rectify.
The AJC editorial that FS quotes pushes the stereotype that divorce is about men running off and leaving their families. Once this is cemented in the reader’s mind, he’s going to be sympathetic to hanging dad out to dry. Of course, anybody with even a rudimentary understanding of divorce knows that this stereotype is false; the vast majority of divorces are chosen by women, typically for very flimsy reasons.
Family Scholar Marquardt claims: The “second family” who actually has the dad in the home still typically gets a lot more than the “first” family kids who don’t live with him., also incorrect. While child support guidelines are state law and vary wildly across the country, the norm removes an enormous amount of money from the father’s household and, when tax consequences are taken into account, leaves him in a poorer financial position than the mother’s household. (even Peterson’s full review of the Weitzman data showed that, and guidelines are much higher now than they were then.) As children still need to spend time with their fathers, costs of maintaining the less-custodial household aren’t substantially less than those of the more-custodial household.
And then you have the double standard problem: married parents are simply required by law to provide their children with the basics of food, clothing, medical care, and shelter, while divorced fathers are required to go beyond that and provide a certain lifestyle to both the children and the mother. This is a constitutional problem.
And then you have the problem of incorrectly characterizing support for the mother as “child support” rather than alimony. The problem here is that alimony is taxable for the recipient but child support to the payer. If these stay-at-home divorced moms have no income except what their ex-husbands pay them, it’s much more tax-efficient to the family as a whole to characterize the support as alimony, and much more honest.
Second families aren’t a new issue in the discussion about divorce laws; they’ve been a major part of the dialog since at least the mid-90s. Men tend to get re-married faster than women, and there’s no law or public policy objective that says men are better off single. Even David Blankenhorn, no friend to fathers, says men need the “civilizing influence of marriage” Does that principle apply any less to divorced men than to never-married ones? (Family Scholars is Blankenhorn’s blog.)
The bottom line is that women who want to be stay-at-home moms are better off married than divorced, which is simply common sense to anybody but the Family Scholars and their comrades across the political divide, the anti-father feminists.
Julie Batson’s Op-Ed in the AJC is a reasonable analysis of the Georgia situation:
Public and elected officials have recognized what judges have been slow to recognize — the current guidelines are blatantly unfair and have no basis in economic reality.
With the adoption of the new tables and the clarifications to the statute, Georgia will finally be in line with all of the other states in the Southeast and most of the nation regarding how child support is calculated.
There has been a lot of heated debate regarding the parenting time adjustments included in the bill. If Georgia wants to encourage fathers to be involved in their children’s lives, then fathers need to be able to afford to spend time with their children.
Under the current system, many fathers simply could not afford to spend time with their children after paying the monthly child support amount they had been ordered to pay. Many had to pay child support amounts as if they never exercised visitation, let alone had joint physical custody.
Family Scholars would do well to consider her argument.