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Single moms can’t really get ‘too much’ child support

If there’s one thing single moms are used to hearing, it’s that they get too much child support.

Of course, that’s like telling someone they get paid too much for the job they do. It’s really none of your business, unless you’re the other person who was involved in creating the child being supported. What’s more, single moms don’t get to decide how much child support they get. If a former couple can’t reach an agreement between themselves, a judge will generally make that decision for them.

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And yet, we hear it all the time, especially in high-profile child custody cases that give people a chance to use social media to unleash their misguided vitriol on single moms. Take the case of One Direction’s Louis Tomlinson and his ex Briana Jungwirth, for example. Jungwirth’s reported five-figure monthly child support payment may be a lot more than many people make in a year. But here’s the thing. Tomlinson, 24, is estimated to have a net worth of between $20 million and $50 million. A couple of years ago, it was reported that he was charging fans £12,000 (more than $15,000) to spend 10 minutes with him. Whether this was actually true or not, there’s no two ways about it: Tomlinson is seriously rich, and it stands to reason that his child would reap some of the benefit.

Another celebrity mom who has been subjected to hateful online abuse based on her child support claims is Bristol Palin. Her ex Levi Johnston was said to be paying an “obscene” amount in child support back payments, which triggered some pretty harsh comments about Palin and her “scheme” to get rich through having kids.

The child support system varies by state. Most apply the “income shares model” (including California, Michigan, New York and Ohio) whereby the court bases the child support figure on the income of both parents and the number of children, taking into account the expected cost of raise those children. Other states, such as Texas and Alaska, use the “percentage of income model” (only the non-custodial parent’s income is considered and a percentage figure — around 25 percent for one child— is applied), while other states use a combination of both.

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In all cases, the intent is to ensure the child maintains a standard of living they would have enjoyed if the parents were married. If Tomlinson and Jungwirth were married, is there any doubt that little Freddie would want for nothing and grow up enjoying all the privileges that go along with being the child of a wealthy pop star?

The system is flawed, that’s undeniable. For starters, the custodial parent is not required to demonstrate they are actually using the funds for the benefit of the children — they are free to do whatever they want with the money. And the consequences of non-payment of child support are severe — even if the non-custodial parent is facing financial difficulties themselves.

Then there’s the fact that the Federal Government pays the states $1.50 to $2 for every $1 the states are able to collect through child support administration programs. Do the states use the money they make to help enforce visitation orders to ensure those non-custodial parents actually see their kids? Nope. They are allowed to spend that money however they like (namely shoring up their state budgets.) 

So go ahead and complain about the system. That’s worth moaning about. But don’t direct your anger at the single mom who is more than likely simply trying to do her best for her kids.

The truth is that no matter how much money you have, being a single parent is tough. Of course, it’s full of wonderful, funny, precious, life-affirming moments. It’s also demanding, stressful, emotionally draining and exhausting to an unimaginable level, and at times very, very lonely. It’s all the good and bad things parenthood is — but intensified a hundredfold when you’re going it alone. Not to mention the inevitable (mistaken, perhaps, but still inevitable) guilt that your kids will end up screwed up from being brought up without having mommy and daddy under the same roof.

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By taking away some of the financial pressure on a single parent, child support laws simply make a very difficult job a little easier.

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