August 29, 2015
By Christian Paasch
As the month of August, which was declared Child Support Enforcement Month by President Ronald Reagan in 1983, winds down, I encourage the citizens of Virginia to honor Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s recent proclamation well beyond the close of this month by supporting initiatives that work in children’s best interests after divorce or separation.
Gov. McAuliffe’s charge to ensure “that the children of Virginia have the financial security and family support that they need to grow and succeed” supports the work of Virginia’s Child Support Guidelines Review Panel, and I am honored to be have been appointed to this panel.
As our state rethinks these guidelines, we should seriously consider an important first step that honors both McAuliffe’s recent charge and President Reagan’s original declaration, which reads that we “must work even harder to ensure that all American children are provided the financial support they deserve.”
This simple, first step is to embrace shared parenting — where children spend as much time as possible with each parent — following divorce or separation. Making this change in Virginia’s child custody law could significantly help alleviate child-support issues for the majority of divorced and separated families — from both financial and emotional perspectives.
If Virginia’s courts were to order shared parenting from the onset, rather than the traditional sole-custody arrangement, studies have found that child-support compliance would reach at least 94 percent, if not 97 percent.
“Determining the Impact of Joint Custody on Divorcing Families,” by Sanford Braver, an associate professor of psychology at Arizona State University, is one of many studies to show this trend. Such a high rate of compliance would certainly alleviate the administrative burden in ensuring child support is collected — and it makes sense: If a parent is allowed to see the child for whom he or she is paying support, then that parent is much more likely to continue paying, out of love and support for his or her child.
To put this in perspective: In Virginia, $3.1 billion was still owed by noncustodial parents in the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2013, according to Virginia’s Division of Child Support Enforcement (DCSE). Of this $3.1 billion, the DCSE collected just $657 million. Clearly, we need to find other paths to achieve our goals.
Having the Virginia General Assembly pass a rebuttable presumption of shared custody, when domestic violence is not an issue and when parents are otherwise fit, would go a long way toward increasing child support compliance and benefiting our children.
Beyond the positive impact on child support compliance, shared parenting has many other benefits to Virginia’s children and is supported by recent studies.
For instance, last year, the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts endorsed shared parenting in most cases, and another study published last year by the American Psychological Association was titled “Social Science and Parenting Plans for Young Children.”
It was endorsed by 110 child development experts throughout the world and also supported shared parenting.
Virginia obviously wants to do right by its children, especially those whose parents are no longer married or otherwise living together. Gov. McAuliffe highlights the DCSE’s “family-centered customer service approach, which promotes parental accountability so that children can obtain reliable support from their parents.”
This accountability and support from both parents is key and goes both ways: The payer has a responsibility to reliably pay, but the recipient of the child support has an equal responsibility to reliably allow the payer to see their child.
The governor also highlights the importance of supporting “fatherhood initiatives.”
Here, we need to modernize our thinking — children need both parents, so let’s support parental initiatives so parents can learn what they each bring to the table, as a team, for the benefit of their children. Because, as we know, just because two parents have ceased to be married, it does not mean they have ceased to be parents.
I am committed to doing right by not just my own, but our entire state’s, children. When the state’s Child Support Guidelines Review Panel meets next month, it will continue its work and be open to the latest research on how to best support Virginia’s children.
There is a responsible way to implement shared child custody in our state and improve child-support collection processes at the same time. We can do this — we just have to want to do it.
Christian Paasch chairs the National Parents Organization of Virginia and has been appointed by Gov. Terry McAuliffe to Virginia’s Child Support Guidelines Review Panel. To learn more, go to nationalparentsorganization.org.