So Phil Greenspun, famous for inventing the whole “make money blogging” thing, got together with a bunch of other people and wrote a book on how divorce and child support work in America (with some comparison pit stops in Canada and a few other countries, including China). It’s only available online right now and is called “Real World Divorce“.
Some takeaways from the text:
- Divorce laws vary both in practice and in theory from state to state regarding custody and child support. Contrary to the memes, there’s been a major shift towards practical joint custody (each parent gets 50% physical custody of the children) in some states, particularly when both mother and father work outside the home and earn similar incomes. The latter arrangement, incidentally, now represents a majority of all married households with children under 15. Stay at home mothers are 25% of married households with children under 15 and only 1/3 of married households with children under age 6, as of 2014 CDC data.
- There is a marriage penalty in that many states pay more child support to women who have children out of wedlock with multiple fathers compared to having the same number of children with one man.
- Some states have effectively unlimited child support ceilings (if a guy had a billion dollars, the mother of his out of wedlock child could get several hundred million of it in a few states, in practice). Other states have very strict caps in theory, but have exceptions that push the amount of child support higher than the tables one might be able to look up online. And still other states do not have these sorts of issues, they work from a table or strict formula and deviations don’t occur. There is, simply, a wide range of variation in how child support is awarded from state to state. The meme about “cash and prizes” overstates how much and how often a woman can get them by divorcing, especially since as I’ve already noted child support currently favors not being married in the first place over breaking up an existing marriage through divorce in many states.
- Only 2 million tax returns receive child support or alimony in the entire nation. Not annually, but total. Greenspun estimates that this is an underreporting and posits that probably twice as many households are receiving child support, alimony or both. That is a total of 4 million households. The number of married households is something like 60 million out of roughly 120 million. Exact numbers are hard to come by, since divorced people can end up double counted if they remarry. And even Greenspun’s theoretic upper limit includes unmarried women (and a few men) receiving child support and alimony from co-parents they were never married to. Out of those 60 million households, about 25 million are divorce-relevant (married couples with kids under 18). Long story short, it’s increasingly hard to profit from divorce as women are encouraged to work outside the home and further, single never-married mothers are increasingly privileged in child support over married mothers seeking a civil divorce. Thus, among conservatives, it would behoove them to look at where the child support profits truly lie (due to the marriage penalties, housewife-divorce is usually done when only one or two children have been born during the course of the marriage and it’s still less frequent than never-married women suing for support with a similar number of children). There is a lot of talk about wives being sold divorce and that is probably true to some degree, but in practice, what’s being sold more frequently is the idea that a woman can use her out of wedlock child to get money specifically if she has no relationship (beyond the most temporary) with the father. Married women breaking up their marriages increasingly still have to co-parent and are cut off from child support in more and more jurisdictions, including housewives being expected to get a job and receive minimal child support or alimony.
- The domestic violence exception to many of the increasingly equalist practices is shocking, not as frequent as claimed by men’s rights activists and mostly useless to any women actually suffering domestic violence and abuse.
- Most women are ignorant of divorce and child support regulations in any state, including the one they live in. This includes foreign women who are here on work visas or who became citizens some other way. And most of the ones who aren’t find it more profitable in every sense of the term to be married than to divorce. Lawyer’s fees eat up a lot of the money with women who are savvy and married to someone with a big salary and/or net worth and then they are sad that they didn’t get one million dollars but only three hundred thousand. Long story short, a guy has to make a LOT of money and be EXTREMELY improvident in his marriage choices to be frivorced to the tune of minimal custody and maximal child support. It is just not usual or common for a wife to break up her marriage to a guy making 80k when she makes 60k or 40k and 25k. And when she does, it’s not usual for him to have most of his pay imputed as child support. What is increasingly common in such divorce scenarios is a very modest amount of child support (much closer to a car payment per month than a mortgage) and 33-50% visitation on his end.