Joint Custody – the Child Support Avoidance Trojan Horse

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In the first two self-help books that I wrote about child support collection, I inserted a page in the very beginning, advocating for all parents – custodial, non-custodial, child support-paying and child support-receiving- to act cooperatively and in the best interests of their children.

In addition to all the right reasons to include this page, it was also an effort to get in front of all the blow hards that I knew would manipulatively suggest that the only reason (or the main reason) to pursue a child support obligation would be as an act of revenge against the paying parent or as a means of self-support by the receiving parent as opposed to the reality that the children involved actually need to be financially supported.  I am a big advocate of children spending a lot of time – and having good relationships – with both of their parents after the end of a relationship. All these years later though there is still a need to defend the position that a woman need have no reason to insist on receiving her support payments, other than her right to receive them in the first place once it has been ordered by the court.

There tends to be much anger around the payment of child support. One of my previous articles The Terrifying Rise of the Father’s Rights Movement drew hundreds of angry messages in my inboxes across all social media channels with men spewing hostile words, and threats.  I was cyberstalked. The comments, made mostly by members of the Father’s Rights Movement (“FRM”), were belittling, abusive, and wrought with rage, much in the same way that psychologists say a narcissist rages when their “true-self” has been revealed, such as when their hidden behaviors or motivations become known.

In theory, joint custody is a good thing with each parent getting to spend an equal share of time with their children. However, there seems to be something sinister which has brewed over recent past years making it a trojan horse of sorts – a parent filing for equal parenting time for all the wrong reasons. Their court motions say that they want more parenting time and the fine print says that they do not want to pay child support.  Ironically, or maybe not so ironically, it’s the FRM that’s the force behind the push for unequivocal joint custody in recent years, and it is their organizations that are partnering with and funding the family courts that provide the outcomes their members seek. I will share more on this in a future piece so stay tuned. Family court is being bought, and these are the goods:

In situations where one parent is the primary caregiver in the family home for a child’s entire life, while the other parent was unavailable to that child, was not present and did not parent – the unavailable parent fights for and receives 50/50 parenting time immediately instead of easing into a new parenting arrangement, allowing the child to maintain a structure that’s been constant and dependable.

Despite the violence in the home at the hands of one parent, the parent perpetrator still fights for and in many cases in recent years – receives 50/50 parenting time even though domestic violence organizations report that men who abuse their partners are more likely also to abuse their children.

Joint custody is quickly becoming the compromise between parents to end costly and exhausting litigation which is being used as a tactic by the parent with the most money to obtain his “fair-share” – whether it’s in the best interest of the child or not.

Joint custody is outwardly being used to lower child support payments. Some parents are fighting for the exact number of “overnights” declared by their residential state to be the magic number for a 50/50 parenting split for child support. Fighting for your child is one thing but fighting for a specific number of  “overnights” is quite telling of another.

Joint physical custody requires much logistical coordination not to mention parents who are emotionally mature enough and mentally healthy enough to be in it for the benefit of the children only and not for their financial benefit.  This is often lost in the mix.

Joint physical custody can be less stable over time for the children than sole physical custody retained by the primary caregiver, but frequently the courts are looking at what the parents want as opposed to what is best for the children involved.

Currently, joint physical custody works for a small percentage of families.  There is not much substantive research about this, but the numbers are looking like about 10% percent of families. However, there is that big push in recent years for the presumption of joint custody with the “right” number of overnights. Why? Shouldn’t we be more interested in which parent that child has been able to rely upon, who has done the parenting and the nurturing, who helps with the homework and who is willing to bring the forgotten soccer cleats to the park and who is more likely to continue to be a hands-on parent – as opposed to the parent who thinks that they “deserve” equal parenting time?

Philosophically joint physical custody is excellent. It is philosophically the best thing for children, but in practice, it is often the worst thing. Joint physical custody is being misused as a tool for the express purpose of lowering child support payments. Around the country, child support schedules define joint physical custody as having a specific number of days with overnight time per year with your child for the purpose of calculating reduced child support payments. If you are in a profession that deals with family law on some level – attorney, mediator, divorce coach, etc., pay attention to the parents who insist on having the specified number of overnights with their children that coincidentally triggers the 50/50 obligation in your jurisdiction. It’s incredible how that magic number will be the goal post as opposed to what’s best for the children.  A parent who has been unavailable to their child prior to custody proceedings who insists on using the goal post is not a parent who is looking out for the best interests of the child. That’s a parent whose primary interest is themselves and their money and in paying less in child support.  There are many ways to have joint custody that don’t involve the goal posts so when you hear a parent insisting on 50/50, you should ask questions.  That parent is more concerned about getting their equal half of the pie, and less about how it affects their children. Joint custody is an excellent option for cooperative parents but not so great when one views their children as pawns.


Simone Spence is not a lawyer and she does not provide legal advice. She was a child support collections consultant for over 20 years and has written three highly regarded child support collection books. She developed the collections platform “Athena.”

In general, only a licensed attorney can give legal advice, but there is a distinction between “legal advice” and “legal information.” Any non-lawyer can simply recite laws, but it is illegal for a non-lawyer or unlicensed attorney to offer legal advice.

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