I suspect that for most people the answer to this question should be obvious: a child costs money to maintain, and the primary responsibility to maintain falls upon both parents. How the care of the child is divided between the parents may alter the amount that each parent is responsible to pay, but does not extinguish the responsibility.
But to some people, it is not as clear as that.
The first issue for the non-resident parent is that they see the money they are paying to support their child actually going to the parent with care. In their eyes, the maintenance is akin to spousal maintenance, rather than child maintenance. Why should they pay spousal maintenance? Their money is not going toward the support of their child but is actually being used by the parent with care, who is using it for their own benefit. Every time they see the parent with care spend money on themselves in some way (clothes, holidays, etc.) they are left seething at the unfairness of it all.
But there is more. They consider that the entire law on child arrangements after parental separation is unfair. It should provide that after the parents of a child separate, in virtually all cases that child should spend equal time with each parent. And of course, if they do, then neither parent would need to pay child maintenance to the other, as each parent would be supporting the child for half of the child’s life, thereby sharing the financial burden equally.
The net result of this thinking is, of course, that child maintenance, or child support (call it what you like), is simply not required. Indeed, it is an affront: I am already paying my fair share towards my child’s upkeep, why should I pay more? These thought processes may at first glance seem entirely reasonable, but is that actually the case?
Let us look at them in turn.
First, the argument that the money is being used by the parent with care for their own benefit, rather than for the benefit of the child. Well, so what? So what if the parent with care is using it for their own benefit? That doesn’t alter the fact that they have to financially support the child that is in their care. In reality, of course, the money that they receive from the non-resident parent gets mixed in with their own income, and it is impossible to say what paid for what. The important thing is: is the child properly provided for financially? If the answer to that is yes, then the question of what happens to the maintenance is irrelevant. And if the parent with care is not properly providing for the child despite being given the means to do so, then that may be grounds for a change of residence (to use the old terminology).
Then there is the ‘shared care should happen in every case, therefore, there is no need for child maintenance’ argument. The problem, of course, with this is that it conflates two entirely separate issues: the issue of which parent, if any, should pay child maintenance, and the issue of how much time the child should spend with each parent. The two issues are actually entirely separate. The latter issue is, of course, the first one that must be determined, by reference to what is best for the welfare of the child. Only once that has been decided do we move on to the former issue: how should each parent contribute towards the financial upkeep of the child?
But even if the result of the first issue is that the child should spend equal amounts of time with each parent that does not necessarily mean that there should be no child maintenance payable. What if, as is likely to often be the case, one parent has a substantially higher income than the other? Would it be fair in such a case that each party pays half of the cost of bringing up the child? Or should the better off parent pay more? I suspect that the average man/woman in the street would say that the latter arrangement was fairer.
In short, unless it is a rare case in which it is both appropriate that there be equal shared care and both parents are of similar means, child maintenance should probably be paid.
OK, the purpose of this post is not to criticise anyone, but rather to make clear that the issue of financial support for a child is not always straightforward and, above all, that the responsibility to maintain can never be abrogated: it remains with both parents, for as long as the child is dependent.