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Child Support Reform II
August 11, 2004
by K. C. Wilson

K.C. Wilson continues his examination of the Child Support Industry and the need for reform. For Part I of this series, visit menstuff.org.

It should not be a surprise that all state child support laws violate their own federal regulations. In late 1988, the federal Department of Health and Human Services gave state governments less than one year to enact a single formula to be used for all cases in their state. Until then, courts set child support according to local costs and case law. The resulting inconsistencies were seen as a problem, solved by each state applying the same arithmetic formula to all cases. But with each state implementing their own formula, we are still left with wide variations state-to-state. (A man in Virginia with two children earning $1,120 a month could pay $400 a month, but in Georgia he'd pay $281.)

Two errors immediately occurred. First, all states rushed in whatever formula they could grab with minimal study. That alone makes most of them vulnerable because part of the regulations require sound reasoning and study. (Write your state child support agency and ask for the economic studies from which their formula was derived. Ask for the evidence of what went into the formula.)

Second, although one federal regulation is that the state law must provide for a specific set of variances and that even the presumptive award itself must be rebuttable (it must be possible to challenge any award on the basis of a case's own merits), everyone in the legal establishment and state government use their guideline as though it was carved in stone. It is applied mindlessly to every case. In 1998, John Guidubaldi of Kent State University did a study of Ohio's implementation and found that deviations were used less than 4% of the time.

Most states allow deviations for things such as travel and time with the children, even to account for the custodial parent's income when the formula does not. It is almost never done, and the main reason is that lawyers don't ask. A major reason deviations are rare is that if an administrator or judge uses one, they must write down the reason and how they came to the amount. The laws give no guidance for how to apply what factors. So to get a deviation requires economic testimony, and lawyers rarely like to share their fees with an expert witness or admit that anything could exist outside of legal arguments.

Far worse, however, are the formulas themselves. R. Mark Rogers was a federal reserve economist, but was so offended by the lack of sound economics that went into these formulas that he set up private practice. His website is a wealth of information.

Just wait till you see the rationale for the formulas. It doesn't take a degree to see the holes. They don't only violate reason and often their own federal requirements, but long established legal and economic principles. They are infinitely rebuttable.

So there are two ways to lower your child support to something more reasonable: Ask for a deviation under existing state law, or rebut the very use of the guidelines in your case. Which you should use depends upon your state and case.

[By the way. I am not a lawyer and this is not legal advice, etc., etc. This is more economic information than legal.]

But having given that disclaimer I will also reveal that the hardest part is not gathering the facts nor even the judge's attitude. It is finding a lawyer willing to do his or her job and what the law has always allowed. Getting a reasonable child support award takes a lawyer, and usually an expert witness.

Copyright © 2004 K.C.Wilson. K.C. Wilson is the author of Male Nurturing, The Multiple Scandals of Child Support, and other e-books on family and men's issues.

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