« So Much for Economic Patriotism | Main | The "D" After Obama/Biden Stands for "Disdain" »

October 11, 2012

Child Support & Custody Stats

This is a small part of an old post from last March about child support/custody disputes. The old post is here. It's a long post filled with links, charts, and references so I've pulled out what I see as the relevant points to the "Sexual Rights" discussion:

In a prior post, the Blog Princess addressed what she called The Myth of Easy Divorce:
A frequent tactic of the simple/single cause supporter is to truncate long term historical trends, notably beginning with an unrepresentative period for marriages and divorces in the US: the 1950s. I'm not sure whether this is deliberate or simply lazy but there's no denying that the practice conveniently airbrushes away over a century of steadily and rapidly rising divorce rates.

The myth of easy divorce is usually accompanied by another popular myth: that alimony and child support create powerful incentives for women to leave their marriages. Once again, the facts don't bear this theory out. Over time, the proportion of divorces in which the woman initiated divorce proceedings has been remarkably stable - it varies between 60-70 percent.


Some lawyers believe the gender gap in custody awards reflects a preference for the status quo, rather than bias against fathers. “Family law is a case-by-case, judge-by-judge affair,” says Joel Bigatel, a family lawyer in Narberth, Pa. “If there’s a bias in awarding custody, it’s in favor of primary caretakers. If dad is the working parent, and mom is the stay-at-home, she generally has a leg up.”

Working fathers have the best shot at being named primary caretakers if they have flexible schedules, or if the mother is also working and the children are already in day care or school, says Bigatel.


Perception: Child support laws are biased against men.

Fact: Higher earning spouses (usually men) pay more but the standard itself is gender neutral.
33 states use the gender neutral income shares standard. For example, wife makes 40% of total income, husband makes 60% of total income, CS is 18% of the total or 18000 for a total income of 100K. Wife's share would be .4(18,000), husband's share would be .6(18,000). If either parent's income goes up, so does their share of child maintenance costs.

17 states apply a fixed percentage to the non-custodial parent's income. Using the preceding example, noncustodial Mom's share would be .4(18,000) or noncustodial Dad's share would be .6(18,000). If custodial parent's income goes up, that does not affect noncustodial parent's duty to pay, since it is based upon his/her income alone.


Perception: It's common for ex-wives to get alimony.

Study (note, since there are no stats cited here, I'm not referring to it as a "fact"):

In the area of alimony, the Committee found that very few women receive alimony awards, while even fewer women receive awards that are adequate. While many alimony awards undervalue the contributions of the homemaker to the family, they also overvalue the earning potential of homemakers who have long been out of the labor market. Further, only a minority of the alimony awards ordered ever get collected. This has a grave impact on those most dependent on alimony, particularly older homemakers who no longer receive child support and who have decreased earning potential because of years spent on childrearing. These women must rely on their own resources to bring contempt action in cases of nonpayment, and they receive little help from the courts.

We began our investigation of child custody aware of a common perception that there is a bias in favor of women in these decisions. Our research contradicted this perception. Although mothers more frequently get primary physical custody of children following divorce, this practice does not reflect bias but rather the agreement of the parties and the fact that, in most families, mothers have been the primary [*748] caretakers of children. Fathers who actively seek custody obtain either primary or joint physical custody over 70% of the time. Reports indicate, however, that in some cases perceptions of gender bias may discourage fathers from seeking custody and stereotypes about fathers may sometimes affect case outcomes. In general, our evidence suggests that the courts hold higher standards for mothers than fathers in custody determinations


A second study yielded some interesting stats on pre- and post-divorce income:


Women's income declined regardless of their work status:


Why did I originally write this post? I did so because I see the same arguments being made over and over without a shred of evidence to back them up. Before I did the research, I used to believe - whole-heartedly - that no fault divorce caused the decline of marriage.

And then one day I went looking for proof of what I already believed and the facts convinced me that I was wrong (or at least that there wasn't any evidence to support my belief and quite a bit of evidence that undermined it). No one has ever been able to explain to me why divorce rates began to skyrocket long before no fault , then declined once it was implemented in all 50 states.

The facts have to matter here. As always, I will happily entertain other studies or evidence but I don't think it's helpful to base opinions on sensational anecdotes, heartrending stories, or vague feelings that something "isn't fair". I happen to suspect there is actually some bias against awarding custody to fathers. But I also think that, given the fact that the vast majority of primary caretakers are mothers, there's some reason for that bias.

I also believe that the law itself should be (and in fact is) gender neutral in this regard.

Posted by Cassandra at October 11, 2012 05:19 PM

Trackback Pings

TrackBack URL for this entry: