Sink or Swim? Childcare Costs Rising

Having a child brings about major financial stress: The cost of raising a child in 2018 was $233,610 – (excluding the cost of college)– for a mid-income family, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.  This figure only considers costs prior to your child turning 18…not 21.  (Mississippi recognizes 21 as the age of automatic emancipation unless a minor is married or joins the military full-time).  Expect that figure to rise by a few thousand bucks each year. 

The financial stakes are sufficiently higher for new parents than in previous generations.  This trend is primarily due to a combination of both changing demographics and economic pressures faced by those having children in the modern world.  The new reality is that the vast majority of our population cannot afford to have children at all, as harsh as it may seem.   

In the context of practicing domestic law, my peers and I receive a large number of calls regarding child support obligations.  Often, they consist of a dad calling in an attempt to avoid paying support.  I would like to give a rough sketch of the math behind my opinion that these calls are not only irritating, but nonsensical…at best. 

Average per capita income in the state of Mississippi is around 32k (thousand).  After taxes, average take-home pay is roughly 2k per month.  When our state’s child support laws come down to calculating support, 14% of the take home (plus or minus, depending on a few other factors, but this number is a solid baseline) will be paid to the child’s custodian.  So, in our example, average income dad will owe about $280 per month, or $3,360 per year.  Until the age of 18, he will owe $60,480.  Sounds like a big burden, right?  Not so fast.

Consider this; given that the average cost of raising a child is about FOUR TIMES that amount until age 18, it seems pretty clear that dad is shouldering only a quarter of the burden (and yes, single dads do exist…I happen to be one so if you are also take no offence in my example).  Is state law failing to keep up with the exponentially rising costs of child rearing?  From my perspective, the answer is more than clear.

There are never simple solutions to complex problems, and never will be.  As frustrating as it is, the only cure to the financial struggles faced by single parents starts with making sound choices about whether kids are affordable for them in the first place.  Based on current law, dad gets off pretty easy.  Based upon common sense, 14% of income as child support is terrible public policy.  Even if the baseline support guidelines were raised to 20%, mom would still have close to two-thirds of the burden.  Take a moment to digest how archaic our support laws really are.

So, now we need to look at all of this in the context of custody factors (Albright factors…who gets the child and an award of support).  The third factor in Albright is “The parenting skills and willingness and capacity to provide primary care for the child”.  So to all of you dads out there, be forewarned:  working those long hours will work to your disadvantage if you are seeking custody.  Get ready to pay child support absent extraordinary circumstances.

In sum, my observations are fairly basic in the scheme of things.  As I have stated, non-custodial parents, as much as they may feel cheated, get off easy financially.  Shouldering on average a quarter of the costs of child-rearing should be a relief, so non-custodial parents are lucky in that regard.  Our legislature needs to pass an increase in child support reflective of the actual costs today…not based on decades old data. 

I recommend that anyone reading this write your local representative and voice this concern.  Regardless of the sacrifices we must make, our children should never go without.

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