A non-custodial father complains that his ex-wife is spending his exorbitant child support payments to buy fancy clothes for herself, while she dresses his children in hand-me downs.

A custodial mother resents living in poverty, rearing her two children on $80 per child per month, while the children by her ex-husband's second marriage live in a $150,000 home and go boating or skiing on weekends.Between the cracks of divorced couples' bitterness fall the economic and emotional welfare of their children.

Children suffer from a child support payment system that is unpredictable, inconsistent and, in many cases, blatantly unfair.

Judge Judith M. Billings of Utah's Court of Appeals has discovered that child support is as volatile of an issue as child abuse. The suffering of children is the bottom line of the child support controversy.

Billings leads the Child Support Task Force, which has spent the past 10 months studying the inconsistencies in the current child support system. Without guidelines, Utah judges are now left primarily to their own discretion in deciding support payments. The amount of the child support order can vary immensely by hundreds of dollars per month according to the county the case is heard in, the savvy of the attorneys involved and the personal values of the judge assigned to hear the case.

To eradicate inconsistencies that have undermined the public confidence in the courts and left thousands of Utah children living in poverty, the task force has developed Utah's first uniform child support payment schedule.

The new guidelines are generally higher than former payment orders, she said.

At this point, the guidelines are a proposal. Adjustments can be made. Committee members encourage the public to contribute their criticisms or support of the guidelines in a public hearing to be held from 5:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. Monday in the University of Utah College of Law Moot Courtroom, University and Second South.

Many of the specific questions about the guidelines will be answered at the hearing. The task force will consider input at the public hearing in determining such issues as how new guidelines will be applied to past payment orders, and the support of families from second and third marriages.

Divorce, children and money: These three intensely emotional issues combine to make child support a virtually no-win proposition, said Billings.

Utah judges say they measure their success in deciding child support payments by the level of dissatisfaction of both parties. If the man and woman both leave the courtroom feeling their ex-spouse got the better deal, then the judgment is probably fair.

Protecting children as much as possible from the adverse effects of a family breakup has always been the primary focus of the task force, said Billings. "The new guidelines are one of the nicest things that has happened to children in Utah."

Child support is an issue that affects more than one-third of Utah's children who will live at some time during their childhoods in a home divided by divorce.

"These children are reliant on the child support set by the court. Figures show that the average child support award is keeping these kids below the poverty level."

She said it makes her very unhappy that judges have not had access to real economic data and have unrealistic ideas about what it costs to rear children.

The guidelines were developed after the task force examined the schedules and formulas of other states. It selected the "income shares" approach because it assumes both parents have a duty to support their children. It bases child support awards on national economic data on the actual cost of rearing children in low, middle and high-income households. Parents share the cost according to their available income.

The payments will be based on gross income to determine each parent's share of child support after taxes. Only the income of the natural parents of the child will be used to determine support.

Special consideration is given to extended visitation, joint custody and split custody situations.

Payments differ depending on the age of the children. Charges are placed in three age groups up to 6 years old, 7-15 years old and 16 years of age to majority.

"When teenagers drive, figures indicate the cost of rearing the child shoots way up."

Both parents have a responsibility to support their children whether they are the custodial or non-custodial parent and regardless of gender, she said.