Parenting, Soviet-Style–in the U.S.
Or, how much money do you really have for child support?
If a married couple in Minnesota gets a divorce and child support is awarded, the amount awarded largely depends on the parties’ incomes. So, say you’re a soon-to-be ex-husband and the court is awarding child
support to your ex-wife. If you want to minimize your child support obligation, what do you do? What can you do? You could always move to Bora Bora and change your name, but that’s not very responsible or ethical. Perhaps a better and more appropriate way to do this is to argue that your income is as low as possible then calculate the child support numbers?
Recently, an Indiana man, who had immigrated to this country from Russia in 1992, recently took this concept to the extreme. Although he was earning over $100,000 a year at the time of his divorce, he had, throughout his marriage, held what his wife termed a “Soviet mentality” towards the family finances. All increases from his starting salary were put into retirement and savings accounts, with the effect that the money available for family expenses remained constant over the years at around $51,000.
The line between laudable financial responsibility and overly strict adherence to a Soviet mindset got further little blurred at this point. The husband did not allow his wife to have a credit card until near the end of the marriage, and even then he would review every expense she charged to it and would take the card away if he did not approve of it. According to the wife, the marital home was sparsely furnished, they slept on a thin mattress on the floor for about year after buying the home, and they had no cell phones, cable TV, or a washing machine. The wife felt that this was not exactly in the couple’s child’s best interest.
The husband, meanwhile, argued that the money he was putting into the retirement accounts should not be counted in determining the husband’s income for purposes of determining how much child support he should be paying to the wife. An Indiana court had other thoughts. It found that the husband could not voluntarily decrease his income by roughly half and thereby get out of paying a corresponding amount of child support.
Those of us without a Soviet background may not be going to quite such an extreme, but the principle still holds true: money you voluntarily decline can still be counted in determining your income for child support. For example, one Minnesota case ended with a husband’s income being calculated with a $140 a month retirement account contribution rather than with the $280 a month the husband had actually been contributing. Similarly, voluntary underemployment (working less or in a much lower-paying job than you could be) can also result in a higher calculation of your income for child support purposes.
Does this sound like its penalizing the financially responsible? You could read it that way, but keep in mind that in awarding child support, the court is looking out for the child’s best interest, and putting excessive amounts away into savings takes that money away from your child’s use. You can still save for retirement, but you’re expected to also be willing to provide a childhood that involves new clothes, extracurricular activities, and even a little bit of having fun.
While Minnesota does have a little different child support laws than Indiana it does show the mentality that people have going through the Child Custody/Divorce process. If you have any thoughts you would like to share be sure to post them here.