Touting the new child support guidelines as "more realistic," lawmakers Wednesday approved, in concept, proposed legislation that would lower the average amount of child support for divorced Utah couples.
Lawmakers have rejected guidelines (which became effective Nov. 1) that resulted from months of study by a Judicial Task Force after exhaustive study and six public hearings.Insisting that their constituents are not happy with the guidelines proposed by the judiciary, legislators appointed John Abbott, director of the office of Recovery Services, to come up with a new, improved version.
Abbott presented the readjusted guidelines Wednesday, saying they will "not be as divisive and would end polarization" among lawmakers and parents.
If the guidelines are not passed during the 1989 legislative session, the state will lose more than $10 million in federal funds - money that supports children living primarily in low-income, one-parent homes.
The guidelines approved by the judiciary are currently being used on an advisory basis in Utah courtrooms. If the new guidelines are passed during the upcoming legislative session, the guidelines would be presumptive. The federal government requires that all states have presumptive child support guidelines, said Abbott.
The new guidelines are based on the following premises:
- Both parents share legal responsibility for supporting their children. The economic responsibility should be divided in proportion to their available income.
- The subsistence needs of each parent should be taken into account in setting child support, but in virtually no event should the child support obligation be set at zero.
- Child support must cover a child's basic needs as a first priority. But, to the extent either parent enjoys a subsistence level higher than the standard of living, the child is entitled to share the benefit of that improved standard.
- Each child has an equal right to share in his parents' income, considering facts such as the age of the child, income of each parent, income of current spouses and the presence of other dependents.
- The guidelines should be applied without regard to the gender of the custodial parent.
- The guideline should not create extraneous negative effects on the major life decisions of either parent. The guidelines should avoid creating economic disincentives for remarriage or labor force participation.
- The standard should encourage the involvement of both parents in the child's upbringing. It should take into account the financial support provided directly by parents in shared physical custody of extended visitation arrangement.
"We have to have guidelines. There are no right answers. Regardless of what guidelines are used, someone is going to disagree," said Abbott.