Reforming Arizona Child Support Guidelines Is Long Overdue
When Gerald Ford’s administration enacted Section IV-D of the Social Security Act in 1975, a nuclear family was hit with a nuclear bomb. No-fault divorces just began, meaning homebound women were left to their own devices in caring for children. They would collect financial support from the breadwinning husband, but were forced to beat the streets looking for work.
The newly formed child support system attempted to mirror how normal households operated, with an income earner shouldering the monetary care of children born during marriage. Mothers naturally assumed physical custody since they stayed home with children already. By the 1980s, 2 out of 10 marriages ended in divorce; today, that figure hovers between 4 and 5 out of 10.
Thirty-three years removed from Ford’s child support structure, the socioeconomic fabric has changed dramatically, yet uses the same presumptive formula adopted during an era where the American family was easily understood.
The Welfare Boom
During the 1990s, welfare rolls were the highest ever. A growing number of women with children turned to the government for assistance with noncustodial fathers’ child support payments not nearly enough to cover necessary expenses. Non-marital childrearing was growing in alarming numbers. Which brings us to today, an era where many noncustodial start their child support payments automatically in arrears since Title IV offices get involved immediately when a custodial parent starts receiving assistance.
Then there’s the issue of noncustodial parents finding themselves incarcerated for whatever reason. One cannot pay court-ordered support when serving time, which contributes to an average arrearage total of $8,000 nationwide. Single parents with an incarcerated ex-spouse or love interest they bore a child with often turn to state aid in that parent’s absence if employment is less than sufficient.
This “Welfare Boom” is one contributing factor to why children are owed over $113 billion in support today.
How Support is Calculated Nationally
Three models have been adopted across all 50 states and District of Columbia to help determine appropriate support amounts:
- Percentage of income model, which assumes child support is spent entirely on child (ren) of noncustodial parent, uses a percentage-based calculation to determine how much each child should be paid. Seven states use this model, with D.C. using a hybrid of this model.
- Income shares model, the presumptive model of most U.S. states, assumes both parents will provide the same level of income as they would if living under the same roof. The noncustodial parent usually pays more, although the final calculation is based off the larger wage earner. Arizona uses this model.
- Melson formula, named after Delaware Family Court Judge Elwood F. Melson Jr., benefits children in that their share of income increases alongside the noncustodial parents’ income, but also takes into account what the noncustodial parent needs to survive. It’s complex, but makes the most sense given today’s gig economy. Delaware, Hawaii and Montana are the only states to implement this model.
Support orders discount the potential for reimbursement of birthing expenses, another contributing factor to the massive arrearage total Americans have accumulated.
Why Reform Should Happen
Activists believe child support and custody arrangements should be decided simultaneously, unlike the current model where financial needs supersede emotional needs. You may hear some argue that child support is for the absentee, not the involved.
One cannot force a disinterested parent to emotionally involve themselves with their child. Incentivizing noncustodial parents to become involved may seem attractive, yet one must consider children born after their mother was sexually abused since they’ll likely feel uncomfortable sharing parenting time with their assaulter.
Child support affordability should be where legislation starts. Noncustodial parents fall continually in arrears not because of legal issues, but they’re often faced with paying for shelter, transportation and utilities, or become homeless. Once homeless and hopeless, noncustodial parents give up paying support, leading to bench warrants and possible prison time.
Until bipartisan support is achieved, family law attorneys will continue to fight for the support their clients are owed, and noncustodial parents will continue to fall in arrears due to unaffordability.
Click here for information on late child support payments in Arizona.