Child advocate Roz McGee accuses lawmakers of displaying blatant gender bias because proposed legislation favors the interests of non-custodial fathers at the expense of children.
While non-custodial and custodial parents have battled over proposed new child support guidelines, McGee has represented the rights of a silent majority - Utah's children.McGee, executive director of Utah Children, says it is her job to protect the children of divorce - favoring neither parent.
Utah's children will suffer because lawmakers have bent to the pressures of non-custodial fathers who do not want to pay a fair portion of child support, she argues.
"In the quarters of the Legislature, the interests of men tend to be listened to. If a man comes in and says it's a hardship to pay child support, that argument tends to have more credibility," she contends.
HB203 has been approved by the House and awaits Senate consideration.
Because of a bias toward non-custodial fathers, the legislation - if passed - will result in a dependency of custodial mothers on welfare, she said.
Proponents of HB203 feel the legislation has delicately balanced the interests of custodial and non-custodial groups.
State Court Administrator Bill Vickrey applauds the bill's sponsor, Rep. Kelly Atkinson, D-West Jordan, for holding even-handed meetings with attorneys, judges, Office of Recovery Services officials and lawmakers to reach compromises in the proposed bill. Atkinson benefited greatly from the current guidelines established by the judiciary's task force that studied the issue for nearly two years, Vickrey said.
McGee and Vickrey are pleased that HB203 includes a provision for a governor-appointed committee that will evaluate the child support guidelines in May 1989 to recommend any changes for the 1990 Legislature.
And both feel these proposed guidelines offer consistency and predictability for divorcing parents.
But they disagree on the handling of child care.
While the current judiciary guidelines divide the cost of child care proportionately between parents according to income, HB203 requires day care to be equally divided - regardless of income level.
McGee has asked Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan, to amend HB203 to recognize that "the parent earning a substantially higher income should contribute more toward child care."
From her experience with divorced parents, McGee uses the real-life example Cheryl and Bob (not their real names). Cheryl maintains two minimum-wage jobs, earning approximately $8,000 a year. Her ex-husband now lives in California, earning $45,000 annually. She has custody of their four children. Two are under age 5 and require child care.
"Is it fair to ask Cheryl to pay as much for child care as her ex-husband?" McGee asks.
If HB203 is not amended to require proportionate payment of day care, then divorced women will have to sacrifice employment and education to stay home with their children.
"Ultimately, taxpayers will pay for non-custodial parents' unwillingness to assume financial responsibility for their children," she said.
That HB203 recommends child support at a substantially lower level - especially in the lower and upper income brackets - than the current judicial guidelines additional evidence of the "gender-bias" against women. Lawmakers caved into the pressure of non-custodial fathers who were unhappy with the Judiciary's guidelines, she said.
McGee urges lawmakers to amend HB203 to include the sharing of child care and extraordinary medical expenses proportionately between parents to spare Utah's children unnecessary suffering because of economic hardship.