There’s More to Being a Dad Than Pulling out Your Wallet

Dear Mr. Dad: I have a 13-year old daughter. I was never married to her mother. But recently the mom got married to someone else, had another child, and moved away, taking my daughter with her. Do I still have to pay child support even though she’s married and has full custody of my daughter?

A: There are a number of factors at play here. However, what surprises me most about your question is that you seem to be focusing on the finances rather than on the fact that your daughter is now living in another state and you don’t get to see her. Doesn’t that bother you? Most guys would be investigating whether the mother has violated a court order by moving the girl away without an agreement between the parents, or figuring out how to see their child more often. That said, you do raise some interesting financial questions.
But before we go on, it’s important that you hire a lawyer. This situation is quite complicated and you need someone in your corner who has a lot of expertise in custody matters. An experienced attorney will be able to tell you about the child support rules in your state.

Some states count a new spouse’s income when calculating support. Others don’t. Either way, in most states, there’s an inverse relationship between the amount of time the child is with the non-custodial parent and how much support is paid. Child support is supposed to be for the child’s benefit and is designed to help the custodial parent cover increased child-related expenses. Time your daughter spends with you would reduce her mother’s expenses because yours would be increased. Makes sense, right? Simply put, the less time you daughter is with you, the more you’ll owe. So if she’s with her mom 100 percent of the time, you’ll most likely be ordered to pay the max amount.

The big question is, Why don’t you want to pay? If you’re having financial troubles—and you certainly wouldn’t be alone in this—your attorney should be able to get your support order reduced, at least temporarily. If you’re concerned that the mother is pocketing your support checks or spending them on non-child-related things, again, your lawyer may be able to get the support order modified so that you can put the money into a college savings account or other savings vehicle for your daughter.

If you’re using financial leverage to punish or get back at your ex for something she did to you, stop right now. Whether you’re legally required to pay support or not, I think you have a moral obligation. Does it really matter where your daughter lives or whether her mother now has enough money to pay for everything she needs? She’s your daughter and you should be doing everything you can to support her. If that means sending money, so be it. The one who gets hurt the most by your ducking your responsibility is your daughter, not her mother.

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