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The link between money and contact: The entangled nature of child support and contact and the role of negative attributions around parental motivation

The link between money and contact: The entangled nature of child support and contact and the role of negative attributions around parental motivation

Despite the legal distinctions made between contact and child support, it was apparent from the professionals’ descriptions of their work with parents in these contexts that this distinction is not necessarily experimentially felt.15 Several expressed a frustration in trying to help parents understand that the two are not connected; one is about relationships and the other is about money.

You hear it every day … He won’t pay because she doesn’t give him care and she won’t give him care because he doesn’t pay. (Mediator, FMC)

Several professionals described the difficulty experienced by some parents in accepting the other parent’s desire to change the way they parent—for example, a desire to become a more “hands-on” parent. This difficulty is exacerbated by the consequences that changes such as these have on the amount of child support the contact parent pays and the resident parent receives. Many professionals commented that this is one of the more challenging issues encountered when working with separating parents in devising contact arrangements for their children.

In line with this, when parents debate the virtues of one contact arrangement over another, it was argued that it can be difficult to decipher whether:

they are talking about a contact arrangement that is supposedly in the best interests of the children [or whether] … this is about saying, “I don’t want you to have more time because it means less money to me,” or, “I am asking for more time because it means that I pay less money”. (Mediator, FMC)

Several professionals argued strongly that money, in the form of child support, plays a “big part” in contact disputes, causing considerable angst and conflict between former partners. One professional commented that at times there seems to be an inability on the part of some parents to make the connection that:

when they are talking about these money issues … what they are talking about at the end of the day is what their children will have to live on, and reconciling that “I’m worse off, and they’re worse off” … So trying to take from the other person isn’t necessarily the answer. (Mediator, FMC)

Another common theme was the degree to which negative attributions are made around a parent’s motivation for making some life changes; for example, deciding to be a more involved parent. Although briefly addressed under “Change of circumstances”, it is equally relevant here because of the interplay between the financial implications of such life changes and the negative attributions made as a result. This theme was evident in the words of one practitioner:

The link between the number of nights and the child support payable is a huge issue in mediation because you are counting and then you flip over the 109 [nights] and you go to a different formula and all of a sudden she says “you are doing it for the money” and he says “no, I am not”, and then you have got to try and unlink them … [There are] huge issues around that. (Mediator, RA)

Other professionals argued that the nature of the child support legislation exacerbated disputes in this area. One commented:

A lot of care disputes come down to the nature of the legislation in a lot of ways, too, because the formula is very inflexible, in that there are cut-off points … and often it’s one or two days that can make an enormous impact on the assessment, so people will try and get their court orders worded in such a way that it falls short, or just above, the threshold. It’s unfortunate that one or two days can be the source of so much contention, because in reality sometimes those couple of days equate to thousands of dollars one way or the other. (Professional, CSA)

This linkage of child support and contact in the minds of some separated parents was pointedly made by another professional.

Unfortunately, the children are often seen as commodities that have a big influence on the relative financial status of the parents and it can become a tug of war over the children for money reasons, particularly in the early stages of separation when there is still a lot of conflict between the parents. (Professional, CSA)

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