The guidelines proposed by the Child Support Task Force will make it difficult or impossible for divorced parents to support families from second marriages, says the chairman of Utah Parents for Children's Rights.
"We're opposed to the guidelines, although the task force has done a lot of good and a lot of research," Evelyn Ward said. "I think right now the biggest opposition is because the children of second families were not taken into consideration."But Judge Judith M, Billings, chairwoman of the task force, says the committee did consider second families very carefully. The task force is leaning toward a policy that would set child support for children from a first marriage based on the guidelines without modifying that amount if a non-custodial parents chooses to remarry.
"The children from the first family should not have to live on less because the non-custodial parent chooses to take on new responsibilities," she said.
"But there are arguments on both sides of the issues. I'm sure that's an issue we'll consider in public hearings."
Ward maintains that the new guidelines are unfair to the children of second marriages. One member of her group, for example, has five children from a second marriage. "There's no way they can make it if support goes up. People budget and pay their support, and suddenly it might almost double in a lot of cases. They've taken on a mortgage for another house, things like that."
Under the guidelines, each parent is supposed to supply a certain amount of income for a child. If a non-custodial parent fails to meet that obligation, the state has enforcement procedures, including garnishment of wages and interception of tax refunds. "But there's no accountability for the custodial parent," Ward said. He doesn't have to prove he's contributing to the child's financial welfare or account for the money the non-custodial parent pays.
Another sore spot in the guidelines is the visitation allowance. A non-custodial parent must have a child for 25 consecutive nights out of 30 to receive a break on child support payments and the break is 25 percent of the payment for the month. "There's no allowance for money spent during visitation time by the non-custodial parent," Ward said. "He can provide all the food, clothing, room and board, etc., and still have to pay full child support."
In a typical custody arrangement, non-custodial parents are allowed to have their children for six weeks during the summer, every other weekend and possibly one evening a week. "That adds up to about one-third of the year," Ward said. "But this parent pays for that time in addition to his regular support. The custodial parent can take a child anywhere he or she wants to, including another state. In order to have the child for the six weeks in the summer, you have to go get him and then bring him back. At your expense."
Ward said it's "ironic that a father who isn't divorced can support children on any level he wants, but a divorced father can't."
"If I want my husband to support my children (his `second family'), I am going to have to divorce him," Ward said one woman told her. "If all of his money is being used, by law, to support children from his first marriage, and there's nothing left over for my children, that's the only legal solution. I'll divorce him and live with him."