Family court, visitation and child support are all unavoidable realities for divorced parents. One particular rule that would be wise to heed is that child support should be less about dollars and cents and more about dollar and “good” sense.
If we take a honest look at the word “support” it is actually defined as: to hold up, bear, carry, sustain or maintain, thereby providing parents with many opportunities to be supportive that do not have necessarily have monetary implications. On a daily basis there are occasions where parents can be supportive of their children which don’t involve opening their wallets – helping with homework, lending an ear to listen to their concerns, and showing up to cheer for your child’s sports team, just to name a few. So clearly, money is not everything, but it is often the “grease” that keeps the wheels turning in your children’s lives and plays a particularly significant role in post divorce parenting.
Providing for your child’s material needs should be a top priority for any parent. Coming to an understanding of the division of financial responsibilities and what should be considered reasonable expenses is tricky even for parents enjoying an intact relationship – and nearly impossible for those that are divorced.
Fortunately the family court system can take care of many of the basic monetary aspects of raising children, deciding who is responsible and to what degree. Unfortunately, the secular court system does not always take into consideration the higher cost of living within the average Jewish community. Private school education, special clothing for Shabbat and week long holiday celebrations, are fundamental aspects of our lives and considered a normal level of expectation for the Jewish family. Since the recommendations of the court do not necessarily coincide with our distinctive financial obligations, parents that adhere religiously to the legal guidelines set forth find that they have a deficit on their balance sheet each month, which in most cases must be absorbed by the custodial parent.
From my personal experience and that of other parents I know who have been the primary caregivers and custodial parent post divorce, it seems that there is often a strong correlation between one’s commitment to monetary support and the level of involvement on a whole in the children’s lives. Far more important than “cents,” is sensibility and sensitivity regarding the children needs.
One non-custodial parent that I know spends each of his children’s eighteenth birthdays making sure to file emancipation documents in order to sever his financial responsibility for their upkeep. Even if his children are still full time students living in their mom’s home, their father wants to ensure that he is not “obligated” beyond the letter of the law. As a result their mom has become not only their full time care provider, she is now expected to pick up what he dropped and provide for all of their financial needs as well. With his children “of age” and intuitive regarding family dynamics, it has ultimately affected their relationship with their father.
This does not mean to imply that it is not only fathers that act in a way that is “non-supportive.” In another case I personally know of, a non-custodial mom avoided paying child support altogether after she lost custody of her children. After the initial shock of not being her children’s primary caregiver, she eventually relocated and unfortunately became estranged from her children. She felt if she was not “getting” anything why should she be obligated to give anything. I have always believed that if she continued to provide some support financially, she may have been able to reconnect emotionally with her children at some point down the line, but since she avoided her financial responsibilities to them, at the end of the day her children felt abandoned by her since she did not even contribute to their basic necessities. These feelings are hard to get passed; even as her children grew into adulthood their relationship continues to be adversely affected and seemingly damaged beyond repair.
There is a strong connection for children with being taken care of financially so that their material needs are met, and feeling secure and emotionally whole. Those people who provide for the child are viewed as supportive; those who do not are viewed as having neglected their responsibilities towards their children; not only financially but their emotional responsibilities as well.