The bill establishing new child-support guidelines that passed the Senate late Tuesday is not a victory for custodial or non-custodial parents.
It's a victory for Utah children, contends HB203 sponsor Rep. Kelly Atkinson, D-West Jordan.Sponsoring a bill that pleases both sides has placed Atkinson in a position similar to a judge trying to appease both parents in a divorce case. Ironically, the measure of success comes in both parents feeling they have received the short end of the stick, he said.
"No parent is going to stand up and say this is a good bill.
"My goal is to remove some of the antagonism of divorce from children," said Atkinson.
Reared as a child of divorced parents sharing joint custody, Atkinson is keenly aware of the pain children face as their divorced parents fight bitterly over child-support payments.
Atkinson's satisfaction in this new law will come if in the future a child comes to him and says he has been spared some anguish because his parents accepted the child-support guidelines passed by lawmakers.
Now, divorcing couples can know the support payments are predictable and uniform throughout the state, he said. They will be less likely to use their children as pawns.
Never has Atkinson dealt with an issue as volatile as child support. When tax protesters wanted their voices heard, Atkinson received 320 calls. But on child support, he has talked with 520 people.
Non-custodial parents complain because the new support standards are higher. Custodial parents have voiced concern over child-care costs being shared on a 50/50 basis - regardless of the disparity of income levels - instead of shared on a proportionate basis.
While HB203 was perceived as showing gender bias against custodial mothers because most earn less than non-custodial fathers, Atkinson defends the 50/50 split.
"The equal sharing protects the interest of non-custodial fathers who have no say in the child-care decision. It prevents custodial parents from sending their children to the most expensive care facility to retaliate against the non-custodial parent," said Atkinson.
Opponents of the bill asserted that it is unfair for a mother earning $8,000 a year to pay the same amount as a father earning $45,000 annually. The cost of adequate child care could force a single mother to forgo employment or education to remain home with the children.
"I don't favor men or women on this issue. I'm interested in what's best for children," said Atkinson.
The lawmaker expressed appreciation to the judiciary's task force that spent more than two years and held numerous public hearings throughout the state as research for the guidelines used as a basis for HB203.
HB203 becomes the standard in determining child support in July. It includes a provision mandating evaluation of the terms in May 1989 and from then on on a regular basis.
"If the payments are too low, they will be changed. If they are too high, they'll be lowered," said Atkinson.
"This is not the end to this controversial issue. It's just the beginning."