Kenya N. Rahmaan
South Dakota is one of the most recent states to embrace the thought of enacting legislation in support of shared parenting in the United States. Shared parenting, by definition, is a collaborative arrangement in child custody or divorce determinations in which both parents have the right and responsibility of being actively involved in the raising of a child(ren), (Wikipedia). There have been numerous studies that report the benefits that children receive when raised by two parents while residing in single-parent homes. The laws governing joint custody and shared parenting are similar to child support guidelines in that they are written and regulated by state officials. These policies become complicated when deciding custody and visitation schedules and calculating child support payments that benefit the parents, and most importantly, the children. A study conducted by Linda Neilson of the Stanford Custody Project (2014), revealed that 51 out of 1,406 children chosen randomly made better grades, were less depressed, and were more, well-adjusted behaviorally than the 355 adolescents who lived primarily with their mother. With this information, being not only available, but relevant in proving that children are overall more emotionally stable, there is no reason that a strong shared-parenting plan is not a mandate in all child support and custody decisions.
One could deduce that custody and child support are equally important which would mean that all decisions involving both should be made simultaneously. That is not true in the US. Every state has specific guidelines written in its policies that distinctly identify that child support and custody topics are two separate issues. For example, in Ohio, the law is very clear that child support and visitation are not related. According to Brian D. Watts (2007), the duty to pay support is separate and distinct from the right to parenting time with a child. While it is true that both parents are financially responsible for their children, the expenses accrued by noncustodial parents during visitation and/or overnight stays, are often ignored when it pertains to child support and visitation. Even though South Dakota has updated its legislation, researchers have not recognized one state that has outstanding shared parenting policies in place nor has any serious legislation been considered to decrease or eliminate child support completely.
Almost all states have some type of shared parenting plan that allow adjustments to child support payments based on time spent with the children. There are eighteen states that offer some adjustments to child support amounts based on the time the nonresidential parent spends with his or her child. According to the National Conference of State Legislation or NCSL, in Alaska, the government offers a reduction based on a cross-credit formula of a 1.5 multiplier based on a 30% shared parenting time threshold. The cross-credit formula is the most commonly used method and this formula can be greatly beneficial to the noncustodial parent. Jo M. Beld and Len Biernat explained in the Family Law Quarterly (2003), that states apply a multiplier, usually 1.5 to the base support order before making an adjustment based on additional visitation to offset fixed costs of the residence when the child is not home. The 1.5 approach adjusts for costs expended by the noncustodial parent while recognizing the costs associated with maintaining two households. By using this method, the best interest of the child truly be appreciated. The parents are both able to maintain adequate and comfortable households wherever the child has a ‘sleepover’ and the livelihood of the noncustodial parent is not threatened by paying child support/fixed costs at the custodial parent. Additionally, it has been proven that as the actual amount of overnight time they ( the child and the parent) spent together during adolescence increased from 1% to 50%, the young adults’ positive ratings of their relationships with their fathers also increased, (Neilson, 2014). This means that the government, both federal and state, should strongly consider implanting stronger and more meaningful shared parenting plans. This needs to be done while applying reductions to child support payments so that the children are financially and emotionally provided for by both parents.
A visitation credit may be applied in some cases in states that recognize the per diem method when deviating from the custody and child support orders. This method is utilized and supported in Missouri along with the per diem shared parenting time formula. The visitation credit is a percentage of the base child support amount that does not include any of the additional expenses, (Matt Allen, 2011). It only makes sense that parents should receive reductions in child support when adequate time is spent with their children. The more time a child suspends, with the exclusion of fixed costs like rent, the more money the parent could spend directly on the child. With the per diem method, a parent is credited with an obligation for the number of days the child spends with the parent, (David M. Betson). By using this method, the noncustodial parent receives some type of financial relief while actively participating in the raising of his or her child. When children are involved in a co-parenting situation, they are less likely to experience some of the issues that children raised in single-family homes tend to endure. The Neilson Analysis found that when 83 children (35 shared parented and 58 sole residences) were tested, the shared children were better adjusted emotionally, (Neilson, 2014). These findings should be included when and if legislation is introduced to promote nationwide shared parenting plans. These positive outcomes showing children who benefit emotionally should be worth more than a parent that benefits financially from receiving child support payments from the noncustodial parent. It is, however, detrimental that both parents spend adequate time with their children and have the financial ability to provide basic needs for both themselves and their children.
The threshold of time is important when figuring deductions relating to the amount of time parents spend with their children. According to Patricia R Brown and Tonya Brito of the Institute for Research and Poverty at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (2007), the threshold identified the point along the continuum of time-share above which an adjustment of child support should be made in order to take in account the direct costs of caring for the child incurred by the lesser-time parent. Deductions are applied based on when the threshold is met and these vary between states. Some states, like Kentucky and Mississippi do not have such thresholds, but the majority of states offer thresholds ranging from 10% to 40%. Missouri, on the other hand, does offer threshold deductions. The ‘Show Me’ State is on the low-end reporting a 10% threshold, but this percentage is subject to increase in certain situations. Missouri guidelines allows for a deviation when children spend ‘substantially’ equal time with both parents, (NCSL). The benefit of a possible deviation, coupled with the fact that Missouri is one of 24 states that requires a “friendly parent” factor when deciding parenting plans, only earns an average grade when it comes to litigating child custody issues.
The “Friendly Parent” factor, as defined by The National Parents Organization (2007), means that states have language in a custody statute that recognizes and rewards a parents’ willingness and ability to facilitate and encourage a closer and continuing relationship between the other parent and the child. It is not clear why every state does not require courts to implement a friendly parent factory when deciding shared parenting plans. This rule should be on the forefront in all custody cases, especially since children are more stable when being raised by both parents, even in separate homes. Another method that states utilize when determining deductions to child support obligations based on shared parenting time is the modified Betson approach. This method is less common, as only New Jersey and Arizona, practice this formula when determining parenting plans. The Betson Method, based on Arizona guidelines, can be used after it has been determined that there are no additional costs accrued when choosing a shared parenting plan instead of using the joint custody option. According to David M, Betson, a credit is computed based upon the number of overnights spent with the parent with the obligation. Arizona does not consider a shared parenting threshold when computing the child support obligation in reference to a percentage of time spent with the noncustodial parent.
Instead, the size of the credit is the product of the obligation times the percentage found in the look up tables based on overnights spent, (Betson). The modified Betson would be an ideal solution in the eyes of most because the best interest of the child and the parents are being met and possibly exceeded. The child will spend more time with the nonresidential parent while the parent is able to adequately provide during the time the child in his or her custody. Too often, parents are expected to not only provide child support, but maintain a standard of living for themselves and another family in cases where the parent remarries. The days of reducing a parent to nothing in order to satisfy unrealistic child support debt should quickly become a thing of the past. By sharing parental responsibilities (excluding money), the child(ren) has the chance to experience better emotional and physical outcomes.
Surprisingly, there are several arguments in support of denying shared parenting even when there is no reports of violence which would, and should, prevent both parents from raising their child(ren). One argument is that shared parenting leads to different inconsistencies for the child. Opponents of shared parenting argue that disciplinary consistency is almost impossible when a child is divided between two households. Individuals have the right to raise and discipline their children as they feel appropriate as long as there are no laws are being broken. This should apply to all parents, regardless of whether the child is being raised in one or two households. It is a personal decision on how to raise children. One parent has no right to tell another how to discipline or when to discipline their child. Equal protections enter into the arena as the question should be asked, are married parents forced to disclose and negotiate their parenting styles in order to appease another? Short of behaving in an illegal manner, the answer is no. Another argument against shared parenting are the issues that may arise when parents choose to remarry. According to Families.com, parents who manage to peacefully co-parent before, are taken aback completely when the other parent remarries. This, of course, should have no impact on the parent and child relationship. Nor should it prohibit the child from being raised by both parents. The reality is that many parents remarry and if the residential parent can remarry and move a new adult person into the household without recourse or judgment, the nonresidential parent should enjoy that same opportunity. Research has shown that shared parenting is more likely to decrease the negative impact of high ongoing conflict than sole residence parenting plans, (Neilson, 2014).
The arguments against shared parenting will continue to grow as more states embrace this reality of changing separated family dynamics. If there are no signs and proof of abuse, there should be no restrictions placed on parents that choose a shared parenting plan no matter who initiated the action. The government bashes the American ‘fatherless’ society, while perpetuating the rise of single parent homes. Parents should have child support payments reduced based on the amount of time and money he or she spends with the child(ren). Unfortunately, too many parents rely on child support payments as a source of income. Because of this fact, any reduction in the support amount may force residential parents to seek gainful employment. This is another reason that naysayers to shared parenting plans refuse to adopt this reinvented option of co-parenting. Noncustodial parents often beg to spend time and help raise their children, however, are often labeled as a deadbeat if they happen to be unemployed and unable to pay child support debt. It has been overstated that children need both parents.
Studies and research have proven that being raised by both parents is in a child’s best interest and yet shared parenting plans are not mandated across the country. Less than 25 states currently require ‘friendly parent’ factors be included in their statutes. The National Parents Organization recently conducted a study to grade the state on their shared parenting plans. There were no states that scored an A. The other states earned grades ranging from a B in states like Arizona and Minnesota to an F which was received by New York and Rhode Island. The family courts, child support enforcement, and parents relying on children as paychecks, will continue to oppose any legislation that favors strong parenting plans that ultimately favor the noncustodial parents and the child. There is too much money involved in executing these biased systems. Until we force the government to mandate effective shared parenting plans and child support reform legislation, the fatherless generation will linger and children
Allen, M. (2011, April 1). What is a visitation credit? – St. Louis divorce support | Examiner.com. Retrieved from http://www.examiner.com/article/what-is-a-visitation-credit
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