Why Child Support Guidelines Should be Amended

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This article is a guest submission by Mathew Hickok, Chairman of the FUAN Custodial Reform Committee (CRC)

[DISCLAIMER: The opinions expressed in guest posts, are the personal opinions of the author.

They may or may not reflect the opinions of Families United Action Network (FUAN) or its individual members. Note that submissions are edited for clarity if needed.]

Why Child Support Guidelines Should be Amended

Child support is always a hot-button issue when it comes to families dealing with the economic reality of divorce. The primary parent often believes they are not receiving enough money to properly raise the child(ren), while the non-primary parent often believes that they are paying more than their fair share to raise their child(ren).

Child custody cases are easily the most contentious and heated cases seen in family law, and the money that is at stake in the form of paying or receiving child support is the primary reason why.

The most significant issue with the current child support guidelines in Iowa is that there is no cap on the amount that can be ordered to be paid to the primary parent.

Child support awards continue to scale with income, but the actual cost to raise a child has zero correlation to income.

Let us assume for example that Lisa makes $50,000 per year. Lisa pays $750 per month to her ex-husband in child support. Now suppose that Lisa has been putting in a lot of extra effort at work and scores a major promotion that doubles her salary to $100,000 per year.

Though the actual cost of raising her children did not increase by a single cent, Lisa has now been ordered to pay $1500 per month to her ex-husband.

Often, the argument is made that child support increases with income to allow the children to maintain a lifestyle similar to what they experienced before divorce. This sounds great on the surface, but it ignores two realities:

Divorce is the most financially devastating event that a person is likely to experience in their lifetime. There are now two households that must be supported instead of one. To maintain the lifestyle that the children had during the marriage, a huge financial burden is placed on the non-primary parent, often pushing that parent below the poverty line.

The result is that the children are going to experience two disparate standards of living depending on which parent they are spending time with which will cause dramatic instability in their lives.

Children are extraordinarily adaptable, provided that there is consistency across households. It is true that their standard of living is going to decrease after a divorce; there is no way around that.

Having a stable but lower standard of living is going to be much easier on children than having one household where they are well off and another where they live in poverty.

The truth is that, on average, no child in the state of Iowa costs more or less to raise than another. That actual cost is yet to be determined but should be consistent across the board. Why then do we have one parent paying $500 per month for their child, while another parent is paying $1500 per month for one child?

The answer comes back to the guidelines and the fact that they scale with income while the actual cost of raising a child does not.

The correct way to remedy this is to determine the actual cost of raising a child. Further, only variable costs, (i.e., costs that increase as the child spends more time with one parent) should be considered.

This would include:

  • food
  • clothing
  • electricity
  • fuel 
  • other things of that nature.

The actual cost of housing, cost of a vehicle payment, and other fixed costs that do not vary as the child spends more time with one parent should not be considered because both parents are required to provide these things regardless of the actual amount of time spent with the child.

Once this cost has been determined, the guidelines would be easy to apply.

Let us assume that the total variable costs to raise a child are $600 monthly or $20 per day. If each parent has 15 days per month with the child, they are each paying half of the child’s variable costs and no child support should be awarded.

If one of the parents has one extra day, he/she should be reimbursed $20 for the additional costs. If that parent has five extra days, the amount would be $100, and so forth.

Medical insurance would initially be paid by the parent who has access to the lowest cost plan, and the other parent would reimburse them for one half of that cost.

Medical bills would be handled in similar fashion.

In cases where the non-primary parent is a low-income worker, the basic child support amount would be scaled down so as not to force that parent into poverty unless it has been proven that he/she is willfully unemployed or underemployed.

Should that parent obtain more gainful employment in the future, it would make sense to increase the amount but only up to the actual cost of raising the child(ren) as outlined above.

Now you’re probably thinking, what if one parent is making $250,000 per year while the other parent is only making $20,000 per year? Isn’t that doing a massive injustice to the parent that chose to sacrifice their career and stay at home to raise the children?

The answer is: not at all. Iowa still has alimony laws on the books that would address significant disparities in income properly rather than embedding it in the child support guidelines.

By removing the alimony component that is currently embedded in child support calculations and addressing large disparities in income properly via the existing alimony laws, we eliminate the largest source of conflict found in the family court system.

Without large amounts of money being tied directly to the amount of time spent with the children, parents are far less likely to engage in the lengthy and heated custody battles that permanently scar and emotionally wound Iowa’s children.

I can think of no better reason for reform than that.

Written by Matthew Hickok, FUAN Chairman, Custodial Reform Committee (CRC)


Matthew Hickok is a 2015 graduate of the University of Northern Iowa with a degree in statistics and actuarial science and is employed at Transamerica in Cedar Rapids.
He is passionate about math, health and fitness, traveling, planning romantic dates, basketball, and family law reform.