A pilot program that is speeding up the enforcement process when a divorced parent violates a court-ordered child time for an ex-spouse was given top priority status and unanimously endorsed by a legislative budget subcommittee Wednesday.
Similar legislation to HB22 was given the same status a year ago but was ultimately voted down in the House.
Those and other concerns raised last year have been addressed in the current bill, the proposal's sponsor, Rep. Julie Fisher, R-Fruit Heights, told members of the Legislature's criminal justice appropriations subcommittee.
HB22 doesn't override the section of the law dealing with steps a divorced parent must follow when an ex-spouse violates parent-time schedules remains in place. It offers a stopgap measure to the process, which has been criticized for years by fathers' rights groups who say designated and scheduled time with their children can be suddenly changed.
"And nothing happens, not in reality," a father from Boulder, Colo., told the Deseret Morning News after his Thanksgiving time with his two children in Layton was denied by his ex-wife.
"I got out of the car and she came to the driveway and said she had made other plans and wouldn't change them," he said. "The visit was scheduled, she knew I was on my way. She just turned and walked back into the house."
Possible abuse is nearly always the implied reason for a sudden refusal of a visit by a noncustodial father, advocates for the legislation in Utah said. The fact is, the only recourse is to seek court action until weeks and months after an incident.
"Besides, what good is it going to do to service a court order on someone who is violating a court order already?" he said. The state relentlessly demonizes dads who don't pay child support but hardly does a thing when a visit is canceled.
"That's a loud and clear message: money is more important than time with a parent," he said.
The state child support collections section is relentless for back child support, but they virtually never enforce missed child time because an incident is over so fast and fathers who try to make up the time rarely get it back anyway, advocates say.
That's what the bill is designed to do, Fisher said, noting that was the motivation behind the original bill passed last year.The pilot program that has been under way in 3rd District Court involves going back to court, but a judge can call for the immediate involvement of a mediator to settle a time dispute.