I see it all the time. It makes me sad, but it’s just the way it is. For a lot of dads, their chief motivation is figuring out some way to pay less child support — or, even better, none at all.
To them, I think, it feels like a long term monthly payment to their child’s mother for her benefit, rather than for the benefit of their child. They imagine that their child’s mother is going out for spa days, getting massages and nails done on their dime. At least, that’s what I have to assume that they think is happening with their money, because, otherwise, there’s no other logical reason why they’d be so darn resistant to paying child support. After all, there’s nothing threatening about helping to fund your child’s lifestyle, is there? It doesn’t seem like there is to me and yet, time and time again, the debates I have with my clients and their children’s fathers revolve around how much child support he can avoid paying.
I hear, time and time again, from moms that they really don’t care about the child support. They just want the time with their child. They just want to be able to raise their children the way they always envisioned, and give them the childhood they always imagined that they would provide for their children. What they want, quite simply, is time.
Since I became a mother myself not too long ago, I think I understand this so much better than I used to. When you sit and watch a child grow literally before your eyes, it’s hard not to realize how precious each and every single moment is. And each and every moment that you miss — whether you’re at work or sleeping or your child is with his father — is a moment you don’t get back. Every milestone that you get to witness is one that you’ll never be able to recreate. After all, the first time only happens once. Whether you’re talking about a little guy learning to roll over or crawl, or whether you’re talking about taking your teenaged girl to her first dance, is a moment in time that is lost forever. And it’s not just the big moments; it’s the little ones too. It’s being there when they get off the bus. It’s baking cookies. It’s those pre and post nap snuggles. It’s those little bitty moments in every single day that make it all worth it.
So, yeah, all that to say — it really gets to me when I realize that a child’s father is just looking for a way out of paying child support.
Can I give up child support in exchange for custody?
Like so many things, in many ways, it’s really all a matter of what your goals are, and how you can accomplish them. For most moms, I’d say, the goal is to have as much custody as humanly possible. Sometimes, moms ask me whether they can accomplish that goal by giving up or reducing child support.
The answer is, of course, yes. You can choose to waive or reserve child support for later determination, if you’d like. Though the law provides that child support should be paid, you can forego your right to receive it if you decide. In many ways it doesn’t seem right or fair to me — but, again, it’s all about your goals and determining how you can reach them. If child support is the one tool in your arsenal that you can wield with any influence, wield it.
If I give up child support, does that mean I can never get it?
No. If you waive or reserve child support, and then go back to court later asking for child support to be awarded, the judge will award it. Child support, custody, and visitation are always going to be modifiable based on a material change in circumstances, so you can always go back to court and modify any of those things. Many people do go back to court, over and over, to modify things over time as their children grow older and their situation changes through promotions, demotions, marriages, divorces, moves, and so on.
You can get it later, and, if you reserve it, you won’t even need a material change in circumstances to petition the court. Then, when you do petition the court, you’ll have evidence to show that you’ve had your current custodial arrangement for however much time, and it has gone so well. Your child’s father WON’T have that evidence, because, of course, he gave up his time to you in exchange for paying less in child support.
So, strategically, it can be a plan that you might choose to move forward with as well for that reason.
If he wants shared custody, is he just looking to pay less in child support?
Maybe. Technically, shared custody doesn’t mean that custody is shared 50/50. In Virginia, it just means that the non custodial parent ( the parent who has the child less) has 90 or more days with the children in a calendar year. In Virginia, once you hit that 90 day mark, child support is based on a sliding scale — so, the more time he has with the children, the less he’ll pay in support.
Many fathers push for that 90 day mark just so that they’ll be able to take advantage of the reduction in child support.
Not necessarily, of course. Many dads want time with their kids, too, just like moms. But still, it’s worth at least looking into. I’ve worked on cases before where we agree to calculate child support at the shared custody level, but keep mom with actual primary physical custody (a custodial arrangement where dad has 89 or fewer days with the child in a calendar year). That way, mom meets her custody goals, and dad “saves” money on child support each month.
You don’t have to do anything of the sort. In fact, it kinda irritates me when this even comes up, because I hate to allow a dad to shirk his financial responsibility to his children. Still, there’s no denying the fact that it can be an effective tool. And, in many cases, avoiding the financial cost of going to court, and being provided a sense of certainty in the outcome, is worth the reduction in child support. (Because, after all, we never know what a judge will do–and, lately, I’ve seen more and more judges awarding week on/week off custody!)
For more information, or to schedule an appointment with one of our licensed custody attorneys, give our office a call at (757) 425-5200.