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Child Support is More Than a Child’s Expenses

January 31, 2018  | 

{3:48 minutes to read} While the New York Child Support Standards Act (CSSA) is not perfect, it does provide a sensible framework for addressing the indirect expenses that a parent experiences. These indirect expenses are the most difficult to calculate and the most difficult for the child support payor to understand.

“I’m willing to pay 100% of my children's expenses for clothing, activities, medical insurance and expenses — why should I have to pay child support?”

That may sound logical, but it ignores the many tangible and not-so-tangible expenses that a custodial parent incurs.

Shelter - It’s difficult to apportion a percentage of the rent or mortgage that should be assessed to the children. If there are two children, would it be two thirds the cost? Or half? Or would it be the difference between a two- or three-bedroom home and the cost the parent would incur if living alone?
 
Utilities - As with housing, how do you assess the cost of electricity, heat, water, etc? It certainly costs more to have more people or a bigger home to heat, but how do you compute it?
 
Food - The incremental costs of feeding additional people is also hard to compute.
 
Miscellaneous expenses - Trips to CVS and Target to purchase non-essentials that seem very essential to the children can add up tremendously, but may not fall into any particular direct expense category. Add to that class trips, movies, the cost of play dates, and entertainment, and you have a major expense!
 

So, to address those difficult-to-quantify expenses, the CSSA uses a formula that multiplies parents’ incomes by percentages based upon the number of children.

What I understand from my upstate colleagues is that the CSSA works fairly well. But in the metropolitan New York area where the housing costs are radically different from other parts of the state, it can be challenging for someone to pay support by the CSSA and maintain a home where the children can visit comfortably. It can be equally challenging for the recipient of child support to make ends meet on support by the CSSA.

In those situations, I’ve seen couples take two approaches:

It’s Your Problem
Faced with lean budgets that show unmanageable deficits for either the person paying support or the person receiving support, the other may say, “It’s her problem and she’ll have to figure it out.” Obviously, that speaks to that person’s anger and frustration. If the mediator is unable to help the person move beyond that to recognize that, it’s the family’s issue and not just the other’s, there will not be a resolution, or at least not one that both will feel willing to live with.
 
It’s Our Problem
Just recognizing that it’s a mutual problem makes generating options to resolve it easier. Not everyone can begin so collaboratively, but I have seen transitions from anger and frustration to couples generating options that would never have been considered if it remained the other’s problem to resolve.
Clare Piro Attorney and Mediator

Attorney & Mediator
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