Trying to establish child support guidelines that will be fair to non-custodial and custodial parents alike is not a task for the faint-hearted.
During a recent public hearing on proposed child support guidelines for Utah, members of the task force were booed by an angry audience.The 17-member Child Support Task Force should be applauded for its courageous efforts to provide uniform guidelines to rid the current system of disparity and to provide fairly for children of broken homes.
Judge Judith M. Billings, chairperson of the task force and member of the Utah Court of Appeals, concedes that several issues sill need to be resolved before the guidelines will be presented for final approval to the State Judicial Council.
In addition, visitation rights and collection enforcement are significant issues associated with child support that remain unresolved by the task force.
Acknowledging this, Billings is recommending the judiciary accept the further challenge of studying the two complex issues after work on the support guidelines is finished.
The child support task force has studied the support issue for nearly a year. Members represent all aspects of this emotional issue single mothers, non-custodial fathers, custodial fathers, second-marriage spouses. Judges, family law attorneys (representing both low income and higher income practices), economists, child-advocates, and recovery service officials have volunteered their time to study guidelines used by 42 other states.
Nationally, the majority of the court-ordered support falls below the poverty level. Utah's statistics follow that disturbing national trend.
Most Utah judges publicly support the task force's efforts. They welcome guidelines that would show the actual cost of rearing children in today's society to assist them in making decisions that are consistent, fair, and predictable.
The task force, commissioned by Utah's Chief Supreme Court Justice Gordon R. Hall, could have gone about its business, shunning vigorous public debate.
However, to receive input from the public, the task force has held hearings throughout the state in the beginning stages of its analysis and now in the final stages.
As a result of these hearings, the task force is reconsidering some questions: Should children by a divorced parents' second or third marriage be entitled to the same support as children by the first marriage? Should the new guidelines be applied to past awards? Is the standard of support in middle and upper income levels too high?
Reconsideration of these important issues demonstrates the task force's open-mindedness and integrity.
Many attending the public hearings expressed outrage because they believed the guidelines would be imposed by judges without consideration of individual cases and circumstances.
That's not what the gudelines are all about. If they are adopted, they will merely serve as a standard to be considered by a judge, a place to begin. They will not be mandatory. A judge may usually will have to adjust the guidelines to fit the unique facts of a particular case.
It is clear that Child Support Task Force faces a no-win situation in trying pleasing all those involved in the aftermath of divorce.
But its work will give confidence to parties in a divorce that the amount of child support recommended by the guidelines is uniform and based on fairness to children.