More transparency, more fairness and clearer rules – Federal Minister of Justice Marco Buschmann wants to reform child support. The FDP politician would like to ensure that parents argue less often in court after a separation than before: about childcare times, maintenance and justice. Fathers in particular, who want to take care of their daughters or sons more than in the past, see themselves disadvantaged by the current maintenance law. Buschmann wants to change that and has now presented the cornerstones of a reform. They are also a case for arithmeticians.
“German maintenance law must be modernized because it often lets separated families down,” said the justice minister on Friday in Berlin. The current law does not give any convincing answers to many questions of child support. This also applies to practical questions about the life situation of separated parents and their children. Instead of exerting a pacifying effect, the maintenance law “often produces results that are perceived as unfair and unjust”. That leads to a lot of frustration, also to the detriment of the children.
What the minister is now proposing essentially envisages an improvement in the position of those parents who look after their children less frequently than the ex-partner after a separation, but who are still present to a substantial extent. It’s mostly about dad. If he takes on at least 30 percent of the childcare and up to 49 percent, according to Buschmann’s proposal, this should have a “noticeable” effect on the maintenance he has to pay.
The residence model no longer suits many families, which leads to noise
Even now, after a separation, every child is entitled to support from both parents. You can provide this service in the form of care and support, i.e. through the so-called maintenance support – or in the form of cash payments, the so-called cash support. In the conventional residence model, it is mostly the mothers who take on the lion’s share of the care and live with the children. Separating fathers often look after their children in this constellation every other weekend and halfway through the holiday season. To compensate, they are obliged to pay cash maintenance, which is based on their income, the Düsseldorf table and the age of the child.
One cares, the other pays, and the children keep a clear center of life – this idea is the basis of the residence model. For many separated families, however, it no longer fits. That leads to trouble. Firstly, a growing number of fathers are demanding not only to spend free time with their children after a separation, but also to spend everyday life with their children during the week. Secondly, those fathers in particular see themselves as being at a disadvantage who, as the majority of the parents who also look after them, have to pay full cash maintenance even if they take care of their children significantly more than every other weekend. According to the official interpretation, such full cash maintenance obligations only apply if the care time is divided exactly in half, the symmetrical change model.
This regulation can lead to years of disputes in court for hopelessly estranged ex-partners. It is not uncommon for fathers who look after the child to try to sue their way through to the change model at any price. Financial interests of the fathers can also fuel this fight – as well as in the case of mothers who take care of the children and who oppose it. This misguided incentive should now disappear from maintenance law, family law experts have been pushing for it for years.
However, the minister’s calculation model is a mental exercise
Buschmann’s planned changes only affect the “asymmetrical change model”, in which the co-supervising parent takes on less, but at least 30 percent of the childcare. Alimony payments are to be partially waived so that there is no unfair double burden – through care plus cash payments. A “clearly structured calculation model”, which the minister promises, turns out to be a six-stage mental exercise that is by no means undemanding.
In order to find out how much the maintenance payments are reduced if more care is taken, the first step in the future is to determine what maintenance entitlement each child has. However, this amount will in future be based on the income of both parents, unlike before. 15 percent should then be deducted from this amount. In doing so, Buschmann wants to take into account that the co-carer – often the father – has to pay for food, school supplies or leisure activities for the child or children himself.
Buschmann had already calculated in the last few days that with a gross income of 4000 euros, a father who looks after a third of his children would have to pay the main caring mother “more than 100 euros” less child maintenance than before if she had 2000 earned euros. However, the key issues paper from Friday also shows that if there are larger income differences between the parents, significantly more maintenance can be omitted.
An example: A father has a monthly net income of 5000 euros, a mother earns 1700 euros and is the main carer. The two children are three and six years old. According to the Düsseldorf table, the children’s entitlement is 1654 euros. However, this is not yet the maintenance to be paid. Because in a next step, the so-called “reasonable deductible” is deducted in Buschmann’s model. It is currently 1650 euros per month. This sum is intended to remain untouched by child support payments and is guaranteed so that parents do not fall into poverty because of the payments for the children.
If the deductible is taken into account, it is generally assumed that the mother takes on 67 percent of the care and the father 33 percent. These values result in a maintenance claim for the two children of 1166.90 euros. In a final step, half of the child benefit is to be deducted from this. The co-supervising father would have to pay 916.90 euros for both children – that is 262 euros less per month than in the previous regulation. So it remains to be seen whether separated parents and their associations consider the proposal to be fair.