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Home > Child Support > Article
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Child Support's Wacky Math

An indictment of Virginia's child support parenting adjustment

reviewed by Roger F. Gay



Child Support's Wacky Math is a book about the way that Virginia and other states modify child support orders in consideration of visitation and shared parenting. It promises two things; to prove that the formula is grossly in error, and to show how reality gets lost and logic muddled in the overly political process that now dominates the child support system. It delivers on both promises with room to spare.

The author is a divorced father of "four wonderful children" and a retired Air Force Lt. Colonel. He is also a child of divorce. Robert W. Ingalls wrote the book because he feels obligated to his children who he admits are the joy of his life. He recognizes the pain that divorce causes children and the pattern of interference that millions of fathers encounter in their efforts to remain good parents.

In response, he applied career skills in math and logic to analyze the parenting adjustment formula. He found influential recommendations from the Virginia Bar Association to be logically and mathematically flawed and shows that their errors were intentional. Their recommendations amount to special interest politics rather than honest analysis.

Virginia, like most states, uses the "Income-Shares formula" for calculating child support amounts. The Income-Shares model has an explicit goal of increasing child support orders to two and a half times what they had been under established child support law. The name "Income-Shares" suggests redistributing parental income rather than providing support for children.






The idea of a shared parenting adjustment is to reduce the amount that paying parents are ordered to pay in recognition of the time they spend caring (and paying) for their children directly. The Income-Shares adjustment begins with a calculation that increases a paying parent's financial obligation to the other parent.

To some, the calculation may seem strange and invalid from the start. To others, the author points out, it can seem logical on the surface. If two households are involved doesn't that mean more expenses? But the underlying logic of this particular formula, he explains, is to get the result that the designer wants rather than an honest balancing of the books. It is illogical to reason that a payer's financial obligation to the other parent increases in recognition of his own expenses. The result is inadequate adjustment to child support orders. In most cases there is no reduction at all.

As obvious as the problem may seem to some, the debate has raged for more than a decade and this logical error and many like it are still policy. In an effort to reach the broadest possible audience, two prehistoric gentlemen are called upon early in the book to illustrate a basic point. Caveman Vinney invented the wheel and manufactures them. His cousin Grog sells them. Should Grog account honestly for his inventory or falsify his numbers to create the business picture that he wants? Lying about the numbers or applying flawed logic leads to problems. From there the book moves to a steadily paced demonstration of the wackiness of the Virginia parenting adjustment. If similar evidence was presented against Grog's wheel business it would undoubtedly be investigated by the Bedrock Securities and Exchange Commission, leading to Grog's indictment.

How should the child support problem be addressed? I place particular importance on an overlying theme of this book. "Mathematics is about logic and relationships," he writes. "Just because you can 'do the math' does not necessarily mean that the solution or formula or algorithm or whatever you call it is correct, even if every time you work the numbers the value arrives at the same answer. It has to have meaning."

Virginia statues have previously been criticized for leaving the term "child support" undefined; the ultimate absence of meaning. Avoiding meaning; meaningful definition, meaningful logic, meaningful data, was an essential part of the process of developing the Income-Shares guideline. Yet, too often I have seen well-intentioned experts repeat the process as though it will unlock a hidden secret and lead to improvement. At the end of Child Support's Wacky Math is a fitting quote from Albert Einstein. "No problem can be solved from the same consciousness that created it." Good problem solving starts at the beginning and proceeds logically.

I suspect that Child Support's Wacky Math is the kind of book that many paying parents would like to write. An average father is no stranger to bill-paying and might even show stereotypical irritation when his dilapidated old wallet is beaten too hard. That irritation can only get stronger when it threatens the precious time divorced parents share with their children.

Putting together an integrated view of the child support issue that includes basic wisdom, logic, mathematics, and politics is not an easy task. Robert Ingalls was motivated to focus on one part of the child support formula, the shared parenting adjustment, because of the enormous personal importance of time with his children. That sentiment is echoed by millions of parents across the country. Narrowing the focus to one piece of the problem also allows a more complete presentation of the problems that the author promised to expose. His criticism of Virginia's wacky adjustment equation is probably the most extensive in existence.

Given the absence of an independent judiciary (my own observation); policy oversight must be provided by concerned and responsible citizens. (An important activity in any case.) The book Robert Ingalls has written certainly places him solidly in that group. Will it speak to the masses? The answer may lie in the promotional quotes on the back cover. After reviewing material that was used in the book, two members of the Virginia House of Delegates promised support to "address the error" and "correct the situation." If Robert W. Ingalls' analysis can induce corrective action, then this book should be in the hands of every legislator, governor, review panel member, judge, lawyer, reform advocate, and child support paying parent in the country.

Copyright 2002 Roger F. Gay

Cited:

1. Development of Guidelines for Child Support Orders: Advisory Panel Recommendations and Final Report. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Child Support Enforcement, Robert Williams, 1987.

2. || Recommendations for Improvement Of Child Support Law In the State of Virginia, Roger F. Gay, Barry Koplen, et al., 1999.

Related articles by this author

Child Support Visitation Credit Gets International Attention

The Alimony Hidden in Child Support

Other articles related to Virginia child support

Appetite for family destruction, Stephen Baskerville, Washington Times, June 17, 2001

Why is Daddy in Jail?, Stephen Baskerville, The Women's Quarterly, Winter 1999


Roger F. Gay is a professional analyst and director of Project for the Improvement of Child Support Litigation Technology . He has also been an intensive political observer for many years culminating in a well-developed sense of honest cynicism. Other articles by Roger F. Gay.

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Child Support's Wacky Math
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