Barbara Kay: Giving daddy a raw deal on child-support payments
National Post - Wednesday September 10th, 2014
In 1985, with feminism still at its height, U.S. sociologist Lenore Weitzman published a book, The Divorce Revolution, in which she claimed to have analyzed a sample of Los Angeles-area divorced individuals in the 1970s, and found that the living standard of the men increased by an average of 42% after their divorce, while the women’s living standard decreased by an average of 73%. Her methodology was flawed. Since then, more rigorous peer-reviewed studies have proven her conclusions false — she later admitted it herself — and that in fact both sexes are worse off after divorce.
Nevertheless, “facts” such as those supplied by Weitzman were used to justify the 1997 Canadian Federal Child Support Guidelines. Allegedly designed solely to support the best interests of children, the Guidelines were in fact largely concerned with righting purported gender wrongs. As a result, untold numbers of non-custodial parents, mostly fathers, have been paying an unfair, often financially crippling share of their income to custodial parents.
Analysis of the Guidelines’ failure to respect the overarching principles of the Divorce Act — notably the tenet that child support should be based on parents’ “ability to contribute” — is the thrust of a new report, An assessment of Federal Child Support Guidelines, authored for the Fraser Institute by Nippissing University professor of economics, Chris Sarlo. The scope of the study is confined to situations in which the children of a non-custodial parent under the age of majority live at least 60% of the time with the custodial parent.
The Guidelines’ history began in 1990, when a Family Law Committee was mandated to “study child support in Canada upon family breakdown in the context of the actual costs of raising children.” By 1995, it was clear that issues such as the feminization of poverty and income redistribution were dominating the agenda.
The formula for calculating child-support payments that was finally arrived at was 40/30 — meaning that a second adult represents 40% cost to a household, and a child 30%. These unrealistically high numbers were lifted from Statistics Canada data in the sole context of low-income measures. There was no targeted research study or science behind a universal 40/30 formula (nor did Statistics Canada ever suggest there was). Yet these numbers became the basis for billions of dollars in court-ordered payments every year.
Sarlo begins by asking: “What is the cost of a child?” His answer is that throughout the significant economic literature on this theme, there is “no single correct cost,” because measurement approaches vary. (In 1993, Sarlo says, the justice department used the numbers 25% and 13%, respectively, for the household cost associated with a second adult and a child, but later moved their numbers up.)
Sarlo argues that non-custodial parents in Canada often overpay by many thousands of dollars — money for which no mechanism exists to ensure it is spent on the children
He also notes that the Guidelines ignore government benefits to low and middle class families, as well as the costs to the non-custodial parent of adequately housing and hosting children during “access” times. Sarlo argues that non-custodial parents in Canada often overpay by many thousands of dollars — money for which no mechanism exists to ensure it is spent on the children — and so the custodial parent can reap a net profit. (The exception is Quebec, which has its own, more enlightened system.)
The Guidelines’ aim “to approximate, as closely as possible, the spending on the children that occurred in the pre-separation family.” But this is a flawed approach: Since expenditures on children in intact families vary with the family fortunes, there is no good reason for the state to dictate fixed expenditures. (In fact, expenditures can be appealed upward by the custodial parent. Section 7 of the Guidelines allows extra amounts to be tacked on to the 40/30 formula for “extraordinary” expenses — but does not permit downward adjustment by the non-custodial parent.)
The second issue was the well-documented deference paid to openly misandric feminist “consultants” on the Guidelines
Two issues raised by Sarlo caught my particular attention. The first is that the Guidelines continually refer to children as a cost, i.e. as a burden, never as a value or a benefit. If they were acknowledged as the benefit they are (what is more valuable to human beings than their children?) then, in terms of time spent with children, “the cost-benefit trade-off relating to custody and support changes dramatically.” Once you add that in, it could be clearly seen that the custodial parent is reaping the majority of benefits. But that is apparently an inconvenient truth it suited the law’s framers to ignore.
The second issue was the well-documented deference paid to openly misandric feminist “consultants” on the Guidelines. From a 1991 symposium organized by then-Justice minister Kim Campbell, virtually all of whose recommendations were accepted by the department of justice, one document states: “Even when men are not violent, it should not be assumed that continued contact with the father is positive. The primary custodial parent should decide.” And the following non-binding policy resolution was passed: The justice department “would henceforth represent only feminist legal arguments in any future constitutional cases and would consult with feminists on any future appointments to the judiciary.”
Bad economic policies have social consequences. As Sarlo notes in his conclusion, the Guidelines promote discord and litigation. They act as a net wealth transfer to women at middle and upper class levels, and thereby provide an incentive for women to divorce. And their ability to trump pre-nuptial contracts in favour of the custodial parent discourages marriage and procreation at the margins.
Sarlo is not the first credible academic to draw attention to the harms these badly-conceived Guidelines continue to inflict on Canadian families. Let us hope the government finally takes action so that he can be the last.