In response to attorney Eddie Stephens’ commentary last Monday about the Florida Legislature’s alimony reform bill (“Senator’s proposal would hit kids hardest,”) we should begin with correcting the inaccuracies.
The proposed new child support law would not require equal time-sharing in cases where a parent doesn’t request it. The law would allow parents who want to be equal participants in their children’s lives the opportunity to do so. The new law also would allow judges to award child support based on the actual time-sharing schedule, which means that a parent could not just ask for equal time-sharing to pay less child support.
As Mr. Stephens pointed out, Florida’s parents and its courts have been moving toward equal time-sharing for years. Currently, parents who are able and willing to spend equal time-sharing with their children are forced into litigation. The lesser-earning parent opposes equal time-sharing, since it will result in a lower monthly child support payment. In many of these cases, a parent is forced to “buy” time with his/her children, meaning that the parent pays full child support just to get the other parent to agree to equal time-sharing.
It appears that Mr. Stevens is critical of Florida’s changing laws and its equal parenting because, in his worldview, mothers will receive less child support. It is true that child support decreases when parents spend equal time with their children. That is because the children’s day-to-day expenses are being borne by both parents and not just one primary parent.
There also seems to be some confusion between child support and alimony. Child support under both the current law and proposed law is designed to meet the needs of the child, not to equalize the incomes of the parties.
Mr. Stephens is also advocating that a father receive 30 percent of the overnights (two nights per week) so that the mother can receive an additional $600 per month. This would allow the father (or mother, as there are female breadwinners and stay-at-home dads) to spend alternating weekends (Friday through Monday) and one night every other week with the child. Under an equal time-sharing schedule, the parents would each spend two weeknights with the children, and they would alternate weekends.
I’ve always heard that children are priceless. Apparently, there is a price attached to spending time with them, at least in the eyes of family law reform opponents.
Mr. Stephens seems to be saying that a parent should not have equal time-sharing because the other parent needs the money. This is the type of illogic that causes parents to fight for time-sharing in cases where both want, and are able to spend equal time with their children. It sounds dangerously close to using one’s child as a means to obtain more money. I always believed that time-sharing decisions were supposed to be about the best interest of the children and not the financial interest of a parent.
Looking at Mr. Stephens’ hypothetical as it applies to alimony, if these hypothetical parents are in a long-term marriage, since the new law would allow alimony of up to 38 percent of a breadwinner’s gross income, the mother could receive sufficient alimony to make her income nearly equal to the father’s, at least for a period of time. It’s hard to understand what is draconian about that, on the mother’s side of things.
Children should not be pawns in a divorce process, nor should they be bought or sold. This type of advocacy — keep your children more so that your child support payments are higher — is the reason why there is a proposal for reform. And attorneys advocating for using children as a post-divorce income stream is one of the saddest reasons why reform is so needed.
Lori Barkus is an attorney in Weston who practices family law.