This is an important conference, with a stellar international group of researchers on shared parenting. With this conference, shared parenting has gone mainstream, much as the civil rights and gay marriage movements did in another time.
Shared Parenting Research: A Watershed in Understanding Children’s Best Interest?
Dr. Richard Warshak is the author of the widely known “Consensus Report” of 2014. The conclusions of this comprehensive literature review of children’s outcomes as related to post-divorce parenting plans were signed by 110 eminent authorities from around the world.
The research of Profs Malin Bergström of Sweden and Patrick Parkinson of Australia reflects the fact that shared parenting has been very common in both countries for almost a decade, thus reducing the research problem of selection bias.
Sponsored by the NPO and by the International Council on Shared Parenting
I will attend. Let me know if you plan to attend also: firstname.lastname@example.org
Register at: http://npo-icsp2017.org/
Unrealistic child support is a root cause of escalating violence between police and black men. Vicki Turetsky, Commissioner of the Federal Office of Child Support Enforcement says: “One third of young black men will serve time before they are 35 years old…. Many of these men are fathers—55 percent of state prisoners have children under 18….Fathers typically enter prison with a $10,000 child support debt and leave owing $20,000 or more.” P 1, Turetsky, March 2007, Policy Brief No. 2.
Walter L Scott, the black man recently shot and killed by police got behind on child support, and as a result he lost “the best job I ever had.” Then his life spiraled out of control, causing him to tussle with police before being shot in the back. Source: New York Times
Read more at http://nyti.ms/1yJelpe
The federal Office of Child Support Enforcement (OCSE) has proposed that states revise unrealistically high child support guidelines. Details are at: http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/css
OCSE proposes to update Federal regulations in § 302.56 that address State guidelines for setting child support awards. Highlights of changes proposed by OCSE:
- Compliance with child support orders increases dramatically if the award is in the range of 15-20% of the noncustodial parent’s income.
- Compliance helps custodial families achieve economic stability, and this is especially important to millions of low-to-moderate income families.
- Consistent, predictable child support payments are important to families, and extensive research shows that realistic child support orders promote consistent payments.
- “A growing body of research finds that compliance with child support orders in some States, regardless of income level, declines when the support obligation is set above 15–20 percent of the obligor’s income, and that orders for excessive amounts result in lower, not higher, child support payments.” (Federal Register, v79, no 221, p. 68554)
Unrealistic orders produce incarceration and unmanageable arrearages. This can lead to a downward spiral in the involvement of the non-custodial parent with his or her child. Walter L Scott, the black man recently shot and killed by police got behind on child support, and as a result he lost “the best job I ever had.” Then his life spiraled out of control, causing him to tussle with police before being shot in the back as he ran away from his unmanageable arrearages. Source: The New York Times, http://nyti.ms/1yJelpe.
Connecticut is out of compliance. Connecticut’s Guidelines that require up to 55% of income for child support; typical amounts are 25% to 35% of income – with substantial medical expenses added on top. When is the legislature going to address unrealistic child support orders?
Over 2% of the US population is in jail, and many are low income parents who got behind on excessive child support orders, according to a New York Times article. For example, in Georgia, one in eight inmates is there because of unrealistic child support ordered from low income parents with fluctuating income and little ability to pay.
Unfortunately, the Connecticut judicial branch keeps such data locked away from the light of day.
The situation has gotten so bad that Vicky Turetsky, commissioner of the federal office of Child Support Enforcement is calling for reform. She says: “it’s nuts … she gets the [welfare] assistance, he gets charged the bill.”
“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.”
Walter L Scott, the black man recently shot and killed by police got behind on child support, and as a result he lost “the best job I ever had.” Then his life spiraled out of control, causing him to tussle with police before being shot in the back.
Read more at http://nyti.ms/1yJelpe
Connecticut’s Commission for Child Support Guidelines has been meeting for over four years without seriously considering this issue or even proposing any revision to the Guidelines. They have ignored substantial evidence showing that Guidelines should be revised to reflect shared parenting. They have ignored shared parenting Guidelines adopted in Massachusetts in 2013.
Should the legislature intervene now that the process is clearly broken?
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On Friday, June 27, 2014, Connecticut’s Department of Social Services (DSS) sponsored a one-day conference. This conference focused on the relationship between child support and effective parenting. It emphasized the importance of co-parenting and of father involvement with their children. The judicial branch, Support Enforcement Services (Charisse Hutton) and Family Support Magistrates Division (Norma Sanchez-Figueroa) emphasized the importance of parental involvement and the negative influence of excessive support orders.
- The keynote speaker was Vicki Turetski, Commissioner, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Office of Child Support Enforcement.
- She emphasized that regular child support payments increase with parental involvement.
- She lauded the Fatherhood Initiative, a federal program that began in 2000.
Brief Summary of Conference Themes
The themes of the conference centered on the connection between parental involvement and financial support for children living with one parent. Even in cases with past domestic violence, a structured program and a commitment to change behavior can lead to successful co-parenting. There was general agreement that parental time and decision making responsibility are at least as important as child support dollars. The dollars can interfere with parental involvement when support orders are unrealistic or when arrearages build up due to illness, unemployment of incarceration. The conference proposed specific remedies such as in-kind child support payments and easy ways to reduce support orders after illness or unemployment. Child Support Guidelines in Connecticut are unrealistic at low income levels, but currently the Commission has failed to appreciate the damage this does.
Possible conclusions with respect to root causes of excessively high child support orders
The root cause of the problem addressed by the Conference is, in my opinion, the economic studies used to justify excessively high support orders. The studies are flawed in many ways, including: 1) The assumption that percentages should be based on an intact family; 2) the assumption that only one parent, the “custodial parent,” is capable of making financial decisions on behalf of children.
A 2013 economic study by Sarro and Rogers provides some new thinking and new data. See: Mark A. Sarro and R. Mark Rogers, “Economic Review of the Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines,” submitted to the Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines Task Force (June, 2013). Here are some key points from that study:
“Most states base their child support guidelines, to some extent, on specific economic studies. However, the most widely used studies do not measure actual direct spending on children and are based on national data. Most child costs are not directly observable, but rather are indirect costs shared by adults and children in a household, such as housing and food. Therefore, the available economic data are estimates with theoretical and practical limitations, and the resulting child cost estimates are informative and important to consider, but they are not determinative.” p 1
“There simply is not a definitive source of data to dictate whether the resulting Guidelines amounts are right or wrong with certainty and in every case. This is why presumptive awards are rebuttable, based on case specific facts that diverge from presumptive facts. The rest of this report summarizes the economic principles, approaches, and most current data available to help inform the Task Force’s review of the current Guidelines.” p. 13
Income Shares estimates, such as the Betson-Rothbarth amounts, also rely on data from intact (specifically, husband-wife) households to inform policy decisions for households which are not intact. These guideline models implicitly assume economic decisions are made the same way for separate households as for married households, when, in fact, the economic tradeoffs may be very different. One obvious difference is the additional overhead cost required by two separate households relative to the cost of a single household. By failing to account for this additional cost, economic models likely overestimate the standard of living of a non-intact household at a given income level. Maintaining a standard of living estimated based on intact household data likely requires more income than is actually available to a non-intact household.” pp 19-20. Sarro and Rogers show that shared parenting implies higher fixed costs associated with maintaining two households, and that intact families would adjust to such costs.
Sarro and Rogers (2013) produce detailed data – based on a large random sampling of support orders from several districts within Massachusetts – showing that a large percentage of couples agree to amounts far below Guidelines. These new data raise questions: why any state adopts Guidelines that many consider unreasonable? Why is only one parent presumed to be competent to make spending decisions on behalf of children?
The Commission has split on the issue of unreasonably high child support guidelines and its implications for parental involvement with their children. This split is particularly relevant in light of the Massachusetts shared parenting guidelines adopted in 2013. Massachusetts had data showing that a large percentage of couples agree to amounts far below Guidelines. This raises the issue of why any state adopts Guidelines that many consider unreasonable.
The Department of Social Services (DSS) paid for an economic study of the Guidelines. The Study recommended lowering Guideline percentages at the low income levels, raising the percentages at middle and high income levels. The Commission voted to accept the recommendation to raise the percentages but rejected the proposal to lower the percentages for low income obligors.
DSS has recognized that these policies can damage a child’s relationship with his or her parents. A 2014 letter from DSS Commissioner Rodrick L. Bremby makes the case for accepting the entire economic study. He says “A father’s emotional, social and educational support as well as financial support is imperative to the growth of a well-rounded child.” He states that the percentages required of low income obligors are unrealistic and “counterproductive to fostering the parent-child relationship as it may lead to uncollectable child support orders and drive noncustodial parents to underground economies and alienation from their children.”
After the vote to retain unrealistic percentages, David Mulligan, Director, Bureau of Child Support Enforcement, resigned as chair of the Commission. DSS stated its intentions to withdraw staff support from the Commission unless the partial adoption is reversed. Staff support is considered essential to completion of the Commission’s task because drafting of regulations is a highly specialized activity.
The SPC continues to advocate for shared parenting guidelines and for repeal of unrealistically high percentages of income.
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