Child custody: When one parent is better off than the other

The gradually closing gender gap, combined with less-defined gender roles taken on by parents, has complicated many child custody cases and forced many jurisdictions to throw out the standard rules governing child custody. It’s no longer a sure thing that the mother of two children will end up with the child.

That’s opened the doors to pundits trying to diagnose the best measuring sticks to be used in child custody cases. With the imperfect way child support is often disbursed to the primary custodians of children, some wonder if children — and the less-wealthy parent — are better off when kids go to the richer parent.

The big problem with this suggestion is that the parent who is less financially stable may still have to pay child support if she (and sometimes he) loses primary custody of the children. That means the parent will lose the kids and still have to pay out money on a limited income, even if the other parent is far wealthier.

Such situations can actually put women at a disadvantage. Using wealth as a measuring stick suggests that a richer parent is inherently better at parenting than the more financially constrained parent. And, while the gender gap is closing, it isn’t closed entirely. Women still typically earn about 77 percent of what men make, and many end up staying home — and quitting their careers — to care for their children and save the cost of child care.

And the expectation that even a significantly less financially stable parent should still have to pay child support misses the point of child support’s original conception, which was to make sure the custodial party had enough income to adequately care for the children.

One critic notes that, while money matters do factor into a child custody battle, they should not override the quality of parental care that one party provides in contrast to another. And using wealth to determine child custody creates inequities that might counteract the original purpose of child support.

Source: Huffington Post, “Should the richer parent get custody?” Paulina Gaines, Sept. 28, 2012

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