Fair question. Here’s why: Alimony and child support are two different things and are treated differently under the law. Alimony might be a right of a spouse, but child support is the right of a child. And just like I cannot waive my neighbor’s rights to quiet enjoyment, I cannot waive the right of my child to be supported by both his parents.
Distinguishing one’s child from one’s self is emotionally nodulous. When legal rights and obligations affect parenting decisions, parents may feel that a most personal aspect of their lives is being invaded.
Under child support law, a child has certain rights and privileges, and is separate and distinct from the parent. However, under other laws the parent is liable and totally responsible for the child as though not fully distinguishable. This complexity is slippery to tread not only in the legal field, but in psychology and philosophy as well.
When is a child recognized as a detached being even though still wholly dependent upon the parent?
Fortunately, for this article, we do not have to realize the depths of existentialism, separation, and individuation to glean the following:
Children have the right to financial support from both parents.
Child support is not meant to penalize or punish, but to protect. Children of divorce, historically, could face economic instability and deprivation, and legally mandated support was designed to address this.
Child support is commensurate with the income and finances of the parents. Support considers the needs of the children, what the child has become accustomed to and reasonably expects, and what can realistically be provided given the family’s increased financial obligations in transitioning from a single into a two household family.
Supporting one’s children is simply a codification of what parents are already doing — supporting their children. The privilege and aggravation of budgeting around your children’s best interests — their hobbies, needs, hopes, future education and career aspirations — is an integral part of progeny. The ability to have children, love, raise, and provide for them is one of life’s blessings. Divorce neither retracts this gift nor relieves parents of their obligations — financial or otherwise.
New Jersey has child support guidelines which provide a recommended monetary amount for the rudimentary needs of the child, based on the income of the parents and the time the child will reside with each parent. However, often the child support recommendation is insufficient or untenable for the family, or the child’s actual needs. Additionally, many expenses fall outside of child support, but within the parents’ attendant obligation to provide.
In divorce mediation, child support can be managed so that it works for all parties. Parents may set up a distinct account to be used for the child, each contributing to the account in a manner based upon his/her income. Parents might agree to each pay directly for specific costs for the child in a manner established during and consistent with the child’s life so far.
The central, organizing principle is, as always, the best interests of the child. Providing financial consistency and stability, to the extent possible in light of the changing circumstances, is in the best interests of the child. Appreciating child support as anything other than for the child is a sure way to derail the family and well-being of the child. Financially demonstrating a toxic relational dynamic through finances, particularly by compromising the child’s sense of financial stability and attachment security, is clearly inconsistent with prioritizing the child.
Parents are not on the hook for support because they are getting divorced — they are obligated because they have children. In fact, the commitment of financial responsibility has precious little to do with your spouse. It’s about your child.
When in the dark, this is the guiding light and principle. When we can meet our children’s needs we do so because we are parents. Because but for us, they would not be here. Because we love them and they are our primary concern.
This is part of the social contract and the human compact we entered. We support our young within the limits of our capabilities, financial circumstances, and what life has brought.
Child support is not so much about divorcing as it is about parenting.