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[Dash of SAS] Child support is not optional

Recently, actress Claudine Barretto made headlines for suing estranged husband, Raymart Santiago, over his failure to pay child support.

Netizens went into a frenzy in comments sections, lambasting Barretto for a multitude of reasons, ranging from asking for too much money, to calling her vindictive and bitter because Santiago is in a new relationship, to unsolicited advice about how she should simply be content with “whatever amount” her estranged spouse can give. 

Underwriting the vicious backlash is the impossible standard women are held to when it comes to marriage and family. The woman must keep the husband happy, it is her fault if he strays. The woman must take charge of making the marriage work and if it doesn’t, the burden of picking up the pieces – and the bill for child care – falls on her shoulders.

The online rage aimed at Barretto by both men and women was troubling, but sadly, not shocking. However, in attacking Barretto, the aspect of child support as a financial means to protect the welfare of the children was completely overlooked. When a couple is together, providing for the emotional and financial needs of their children is an expectation from both parents. When a couple are no longer husband and wife, they do not cease to be parents to their children. Why does the responsibility of making ends meet become only the woman’s role when a couple split up? 

To be sure, I am referring to Barretto here as an example of the social condemnation and admonishment many women are subjected to when it comes to securing child support. In a previous Rappler column, I wrote about a woman who phoned into a radio station asking for advice about how to get her ex-husband to help out with the kids’ expenses without the usual excuses and delays. The radio announcer (a woman) told her that child support is a matter of conscience but reassured her that she is blessed.

Child support is not a matter of conscience, nor should it be considered optional. It is the continuation of the parental duty to take care of your children’s needs even though you and your spouse or partner decide to separate. It is a moral obligation to safeguard the well-being of your children. 

Child support is for the kids

When a marriage or cohabitation arrangement ends, a dual-income household shrinks to a single-income one, but without the household expenditures contracting in the same way. This is where child support comes in and why it is important. Child support is meant to ensure that the children are shielded from feeling the financial impact of a separation. This is all the more important when the parent who has custody of the children is the partner who was earning less or was dependent on the family breadwinner. 

A US study cited in the podcast, “Death, Sex and Money” showed that after a divorce, a woman’s household income fell by 41%, nearly double the income loss suffered by men. This income loss can result in a class slide that also affects the children.

As a lawyer who I once interviewed about the legalities of child support put it, child support is meant to ensure that the children enjoy the same quality of life even after the marriage ends. To cite the example that she gave me, “If the children were going to a private school during the marriage, they should still be able to go to that same school even after their parents separate.” 

If you think about it objectively, other financial instruments like life insurance  function the same way – they help cushion the blow of economic instability when livelihoods are disrupted by death or disability.

And yet, child support remains so contentious. Women who invoke their and their children’s right to it are accused of being vindictive financial opportunists while their estranged husbands are given a compassion pass, entitling him to give only what he can afford and when he can – as if due dates for school fees and electricity bills were as flexible.

To this point, the subject of child support can be discussed in amicable terms. The amount of child support is not arbitrarily decided on. A couple can discuss and agree on the amount, basing it on accountable expenditures like tuition fees, clothing, and health expenses. However, when the responsible party fails to meet their obligations, then the matter may be elevated to the court. 

Below is a summary of the legalities of child support written in my previous Rappler column. Philippine society prides itself on always looking out for the welfare of children. In doing so, we should ultimately shift from blaming and shaming to seeing child support for what it ultimately is for – the children.

  • Under the Family Code, as long as the father is gainfully employed, a child (who is in the custody of the mother) is entitled to receive child support. Title VIII, Article 194 of the Family Code stipulates that a biological child is automatically entitled to child support. The law does not distinguish between legitimate or illegitimate children. Child support is not contingent on the legal union of the parents and covers “all things that are indispensable” such as food, clothing, education, medical needs, among others. The standard observed by Philippine courts in child support or family cases is in accordance with the best interests of the child. 
  • There is no specific set amount for child support. It depends on the child’s needs and the giver’s earning capacity. The amount of child support is also not fixed; it may diminish over time as the child’s needs are also reduced, like in the case of tuition. There are no fixed rules on the computation of child support, but the Court will require you to submit proof of income and a summary or listing of expenses to decide on the amount to be awarded.  
  • The mother is entitled to receive child support from the father, commensurate to his financial capacity and the needs of the child. 
  • You will have to make a written request to the father for child support and you must show proof that this request was received. The request for child support can be made even while legal proceedings to dissolve your union are underway. 
  • Under RA 9262 or the Anti-Violence Against Women and their Children Law Section 8 (g), you may file for a protection order directing the father to provide child support. Under what is known as salary garnishing, the protection order may stipulate a percentage of the income or salary be withheld by the employer and automatically remitted to the woman. Both the respondent (the one who is supposed to give child support) and the employer may be charged with contempt of court if they fail to comply or if they delay remittance.