An ironic accusation faced by Child Support Task Force members is that the judiciary is trying to pull the wool over the public's eyes with its new proposed guidelines for judges to use in setting consistent awards.
Instead of facing criticism, the judiciary should be applauded for its spirit of openness and responsiveness to public input.In response to allegations that the judiciary is overstepping its authority and avoiding public criticism, lawmakers are reviewing the proposed guidelines during an interim committee at the State's Capitol Wednesday.
Some ardent opponents of the guidelines suggest that legislators should begin all over in establishing support guidelines, and then submit the proposals as new legislation.
Yet the task force went to great lengths to gather public input and used that information to modify and change some of the proposals.
Even before the task force began studying the guidelines adopted by 42 other states, members heard testimony from custodial and non-custodial parents, social workers, judges, family law attorneys (epresenting lower and higher income levels), and children of divorced families.
After many months of study and intense debate, the 17-member task force took its preliminary recommendations to the public in six hearing held throughout the state. Additionally, task force members reviewed dozens of letters sent by parents too timid to testify in the public hearings.
As a result of the public hearings, the preliminary guidelines were significantly altered.
The revised guidelines, to be presented in a public meeting to the Judicial Council for final approval on June 27, place Utah sixth from the lowest in the amount of average payment among 42 states. This final proposal is about 20 percent lower than the original guidelines debated at public hearings.
Initial recommendations would have applied new guidelines to existing child support orders. Understandably, this raised concern from non-custodial parents who have made financial decisions based upon reliance of existing orders.
Public outcry convinced members the new scale should not apply retroactively. The new standard will only apply to a couple who divorced after (nd if) the guidelines are adopted.
Another major compromise involves children of divorced parents who share physical custody of their children. If the couple's child spends at least 35 percent of overnight visits in a second home, then the new guidelines don't apply.
Legislators should give serious consideration to the proposed guidelines as a step in the right direction. Once in place, the guidelines will be evaluated and further modified.
Every effort should be made to eradicate inconsistent and inadequate support payments for Utah's children.