President Obama's Father's Day speech included one provocative, yet very declarative, sentence: "We should reform our child support laws to get more men working and engaged with their children." Obama didn't elaborate, but we can build on what he said because, yes indeed, child support laws urgently need "reform."
Many fathers work long hours and make incredible sacrifices for their families. Child support formulas are based on the ridiculous notion that a father would make those same sacrifices for an ex-wife who is living with her new husband or boyfriend and for children he never or seldom sees.
Many fathers would happily do more to support their children if they got to see their kids more and were more engaged in their lives. But current child support laws have reverse incentives: The more the mother prevents such contact, the more child support she receives.
Child support is not even really child support, because the mother has no obligation to spend the money on the kids, and faithful payment of child support does not buy the father time with his kids. The purpose of child support is to allow the mother to maintain a household and standard of living comparable to the father's.
Because of perverse incentives, a so-called "no fault divorce" is often followed by a bitter child custody dispute with bogus allegations of domestic violence or child abuse, and the winner can get a huge child support windfall. Usually the family court judge cannot tell who is telling the truth.
Reform should eliminate these bad incentives. No parent should collect money for denying kids the opportunity to see the other parent, and payments should not exceed reasonable documented child expenses. If both parents are willing and able to manage joint child custody, there should be no necessity for child support payments.
As annoying as the IRS is, it follows accounting rules and taxes only actual income. But a family court judge can ignore current income (or lack thereof) and instead calculate child support on past income or on imputed future income.
A California wife, under community property laws, is entitled to 50 percent of her husband's income and 50 percent of her own income. But if she divorces him and gets custody of their two kids, she then gets 40 percent of his income plus 100 percent of her own income.
Phyllis Schlafly is a national leader of the pro-family movement, a nationally syndicated columnist and author of Feminist Fantasies.
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