If children, a silent majority, could speak out at public hearings on the controversial child-support guidelines, the outcome of the hearings would be very different, says a coalition of single parents.
Mary Lloyd Tuckett and Thalie E. Oakes say they represent the silent voices of those who have not been represented fairly in child-support hearings - children and divorced mothers.They want to get their message, "Consider the needs of the children first," across to task force members who met Tuesday evening to reconsider the proposed guidelines.
"If children could defend their own rights, they would say they are in extreme financial need. Child support payments are inadequate.
"They would say that they suffer economically and emotionally because of their parents' divorce. They would urge task force members to be bold and not to bend to political pressure or to the intimidation of non-custodial parents," Tuckett said.
Divorced mothers are reluctant to voice support of the guidelines because of the hostile atmosphere of the public hearings, they said.
At recent hearings, non-custodial fathers clearly dominated the debate floor, complaining loudly about the injustices of increasing child support payments.
The group booed single mothers and criticized the motives of task force members who are striving to develop a uniform, higher-payment scale to be used as a standard by Utah judges.
The task force received a distorted, unbalanced idea of public sentiment because many single mothers refused to subject themselves to public ridicule, Tuckett and Oakes said.
"Many women were afraid that their ex-husbands would not send the child support payments if they heard the women support the guidelines at a public meeting. The risk was too great," said Oakes.
Too often, women who divorce find themselves in the position of "being on good behavior so child support is not denied," said Oakes.
As a result of input received at the public hearings, the task force is re-evaluating the guidelines in work sessions.
Warned by legislators that it would be politically unpopular to make the guidelines retroactive to existing child-support orders, the task force voted to have new guidelines apply only to divorce cases filed after (and if) new guidelines are adopted. The compromise marked a victory for many non-custodial parents who had voiced opposition.
Statistics show that 40 percent to 50 percent of divorced women have been physically abused; more than 70 percent have been verbally abused. It's not surprising that these women are afraid to come forward to defend their rights, the two women said. It's not that single mothers don't care, they just don't believe they can make a change.
Outside the volatile arena of public hearings, single mothers have written support task force members urging that higher standards be adopted. They applaud the committee's efforts to remove arbitrary, inadequate child-support payments, they said.
According to official task force rec-ords, individuals who wrote favoring the increased guidelines totaled 94, while those opposed totaled 92. Eight organizations sent letters expressing support. No organizations wrote opposing the guidelines.
Tuckett and Oakes encourage divorced mothers to overcome their fear and attend a meeting at 9:30 a.m. June 27 at the State Capitol where the final recommendations of the proposed guidelines will be presented to the State Judicial Council for approval.
Copies of the guidelines will be available to the public before to the June 27 meeting.
"Single mothers have to begin to believe they can make a difference. They owe it to their children, who are a silent and helpless majority, to let their voices be heard and considered," said Tuckett.