Reject CT CS Commission’s Recommendations!

On January 27, 2015 the Legislative Regulation Review Committee of the Connecticut General Assembly meets to consider the child support recommendations submitted by the Commission on Child Support Guidelines. We call on the Committee to reject the Commission’s recommendations. Show your support! Attend the session on Tuesday, January 27, 2015, at 10:00 AM in Room 1E of the Legislative Office Building, 300 Capitol Avenue, Hartford, CT.

Background
Connecticut needs family-friendly child support guidelines. Connecticut’s Commission ignored Connecticut’s 2005 law defining the Best Interests of the Child, which says that Best Interests include strong and continuing connections with both parents.

In a 2014 letter to Connecticut’s Commission on Child Support Guidelines, Department of Social Services Commissioner Rodrick L. Bremby writes: “emotional, social and educational support as well as financial support is imperative to the growth of a well-rounded child.” He further states that the Guideline percentages of income for low income obligors are unrealistic and “counterproductive to fostering the parent-child relationship as it may lead to uncollectable child support orders and drive noncustodial parents to underground economies and alienation from their children.”

Call to action
We call on the Committee to reject the Commission’s recommendations because the recommendations:

  • Price poor obligors out of the family equation. The Commission rejected proposals to lower percentages for low income obligors, cherry-picking data prepared by their own expert to arrive at this conclusion.
  • Increase Guideline percentages for middle and high-income obligors. This is contrary to evidence indicating that the actual, marginal costs of raising children is significantly below, not above, Guideline amounts.
  • Put those paying alimony at a significant financial disadvantage. The Guidelines would in future ignore income from alimony when calculating child support.
  • Ignore the fact that the totality of court-ordered payments necessary to hire court-ordered professionals (e.g., GALs, AMCs, therapists), plus court-ordered child support, is putting individuals, many of whom are women, into a situation where it is impossible for them to meet the court-ordered obligations.
  • Fail to adequately consider substantial data collected in Massachusetts on this subject, data that resulted in the adoption of Guidelines with the rebuttable presumption of shared parenting in that state in the summer of 2013.

Conclusion
Connecticut’s Commission is proposing family-unfriendly Guidelines, perpetuating a winner-takes-all system that is in no child’s interest. Massachusetts recognizes the interconnection between child support, parenting time, and financial responsibility and, as such, actively encourages shared parental responsibility, both emotional and financial. Other states have adopted a similar model, or are close to. Connecticut’s Commission has not considered the substance of the reasoning leading to the changes in Massachusetts but certainly must do the same.

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Child Support Reform Opportunity

We have an important opportunity to remove the financial incentive behind being awarded child support: “cash for kids” as Divorce Corp puts it. Help us try to change the Title IV-D Federal Regulations that are up for review. The above clip explains why we need for this to change asap. Divorce Corp additionally provides an excellent write-up of the reasons why, and how to make your voice heard.

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Shameful Attack on Rep. Minnie Gonzalez in the Hartford Courant

The Saturday, October 25, 2014 Hartford Courant editorial (p A9) engages in a poorly researched attack on Rep Minnie Gonzalez, who is seeking a 10th term in the legislature. To their shame, they neglect to mention Minnie’s heroic role in the family court reform movement. In fact, Rep. Gonzalez embraced the need for family court reform, even at the beginning of the process when she was ridiculed as a radical. After unanimous vote for Minnie’s legislation, senators and representatives thanked Rep. Gonzalez for not giving up on court reform. Congratulations and hugs from her colleagues rewarded Minnie’s hard work and dedication to the legislation. Shame on the Courant for cherry picking the information they use in their editorials.

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Walk October 24-27 for Divorce and Custody Reform with Patrick!

Patrick Glynn is walking 400 miles from Boston to Washington DC, taking every step for family law reform. He’s looking for walkers to join him on part of his journey, or simply provide a couch to spend a night, and is passing through CT this week.

http://eyeonconnecticut.com/2014/10/20/why-is-patrick-walking-for-walk-for-kids/

to sign up and learn more.

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Why is only one parent presumed to be competent to make spending decisions on behalf of children?

Connecticut’s Commission for Child Support Guidelines has been meeting for over four years without seriously considering this issue or even proposing any revision to the Guidelines. They have ignored substantial evidence showing that Guidelines should be revised to reflect shared parenting. They have ignored shared parenting Guidelines adopted in Massachusetts in 2013.

Should the legislature intervene now that the process is clearly broken?

Comment on this issue by clicking “leave a response” below.

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Government Agencies Deal with Excessive Child Support Orders

On Friday, June 27, 2014, Connecticut’s Department of Social Services (DSS) sponsored a one-day conference. This conference focused on the relationship between child support and effective parenting. It emphasized the importance of co-parenting and of father involvement with their children. The judicial branch, Support Enforcement Services (Charisse Hutton) and Family Support Magistrates Division (Norma Sanchez-Figueroa) emphasized the importance of parental involvement and the negative influence of excessive support orders.

  • The keynote speaker was Vicki Turetski, Commissioner, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Office of Child Support Enforcement.
    • She emphasized that regular child support payments increase with parental involvement.
    • She lauded the Fatherhood Initiative, a federal program that began in 2000.

Brief Summary of Conference Themes
The themes of the conference centered on the connection between parental involvement and financial support for children living with one parent. Even in cases with past domestic violence, a structured program and a commitment to change behavior can lead to successful co-parenting. There was general agreement that parental time and decision making responsibility are at least as important as child support dollars. The dollars can interfere with parental involvement when support orders are unrealistic or when arrearages build up due to illness, unemployment of incarceration. The conference proposed specific remedies such as in-kind child support payments and easy ways to reduce support orders after illness or unemployment. Child Support Guidelines in Connecticut are unrealistic at low income levels, but currently the Commission has failed to appreciate the damage this does.

Possible conclusions with respect to root causes of excessively high child support orders
The root cause of the problem addressed by the Conference is, in my opinion, the economic studies used to justify excessively high support orders. The studies are flawed in many ways, including: 1) The assumption that percentages should be based on an intact family; 2) the assumption that only one parent, the “custodial parent,” is capable of making financial decisions on behalf of children.

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Are child support orders unreasonably high?

A 2013 economic study by Sarro and Rogers provides some new thinking and new data. See: Mark A. Sarro and R. Mark Rogers, “Economic Review of the Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines,” submitted to the Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines Task Force (June, 2013). Here are some key points from that study:
 “Most states base their child support guidelines, to some extent, on specific economic studies. However, the most widely used studies do not measure actual direct spending on children and are based on national data. Most child costs are not directly observable, but rather are indirect costs shared by adults and children in a household, such as housing and food. Therefore, the available economic data are estimates with theoretical and practical limitations, and the resulting child cost estimates are informative and important to consider, but they are not determinative.” p 1
 “There simply is not a definitive source of data to dictate whether the resulting Guidelines amounts are right or wrong with certainty and in every case. This is why presumptive awards are rebuttable, based on case specific facts that diverge from presumptive facts. The rest of this report summarizes the economic principles, approaches, and most current data available to help inform the Task Force’s review of the current Guidelines.” p. 13
 Income Shares estimates, such as the Betson-Rothbarth amounts, also rely on data from intact (specifically, husband-wife) households to inform policy decisions for households which are not intact. These guideline models implicitly assume economic decisions are made the same way for separate households as for married households, when, in fact, the economic tradeoffs may be very different. One obvious difference is the additional overhead cost required by two separate households relative to the cost of a single household. By failing to account for this additional cost, economic models likely overestimate the standard of living of a non-intact household at a given income level. Maintaining a standard of living estimated based on intact household data likely requires more income than is actually available to a non-intact household.” pp 19-20. Sarro and Rogers show that shared parenting implies higher fixed costs associated with maintaining two households, and that intact families would adjust to such costs.
 Sarro and Rogers (2013) produce detailed data – based on a large random sampling of support orders from several districts within Massachusetts – showing that a large percentage of couples agree to amounts far below Guidelines. These new data raise questions: why any state adopts Guidelines that many consider unreasonable? Why is only one parent presumed to be competent to make spending decisions on behalf of children?

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Why Connecticut’s Child Support Commission is split and implications for shared parenting

The Commission has split on the issue of unreasonably high child support guidelines and its implications for parental involvement with their children. This split is particularly relevant in light of the Massachusetts shared parenting guidelines adopted in 2013. Massachusetts had data showing that a large percentage of couples agree to amounts far below Guidelines. This raises the issue of why any state adopts Guidelines that many consider unreasonable.

The Department of Social Services (DSS) paid for an economic study of the Guidelines. The Study recommended lowering Guideline percentages at the low income levels, raising the percentages at middle and high income levels. The Commission voted to accept the recommendation to raise the percentages but rejected the proposal to lower the percentages for low income obligors.

DSS has recognized that these policies can damage a child’s relationship with his or her parents. A 2014 letter from DSS Commissioner Rodrick L. Bremby makes the case for accepting the entire economic study. He says “A father’s emotional, social and educational support as well as financial support is imperative to the growth of a well-rounded child.” He states that the percentages required of low income obligors are unrealistic and “counterproductive to fostering the parent-child relationship as it may lead to uncollectable child support orders and drive noncustodial parents to underground economies and alienation from their children.”
After the vote to retain unrealistic percentages, David Mulligan, Director, Bureau of Child Support Enforcement, resigned as chair of the Commission. DSS stated its intentions to withdraw staff support from the Commission unless the partial adoption is reversed. Staff support is considered essential to completion of the Commission’s task because drafting of regulations is a highly specialized activity.
The SPC continues to advocate for shared parenting guidelines and for repeal of unrealistically high percentages of income.
Contact info@sharedparentinginc.org for more information.

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Connecticut’s legislature votes no confidence in the family court system

On Friday, April 25, 2014, both houses of Connecticut’s legislature unanimously approved a bill that restricts judges in family court matters. Parent who have been unfairly denied access to their children and bankrupted by the court turned out in large numbers to testify in favor of the legislation. Given that judges and divorce lawyers fought hard against the measure, this can only be interpreted as a vote of no confidence in the way family court operates today in Connecticut.
The bill passed on April 25 deals with technical issues associated with the court appointed Guardians Ad Litem (GALs). The issues generating the no confidence vote centered on:
1. Poor training. GALs require only 30 hours of training. No law degree, no study of child behavior, no other experience with children.
2. No accountability. As a practical matter, parents paying the bills could not fire the GAL! And, GALs have immunity from law suits.
3. Some GAL’s had few meetings with children and refused to meet with those intimately involved with the children’s lives.
4. Excessive pay. Hourly rates were reported in the $200-$850 range and some total billings were in excess of $20,000 per year. Some testimony suggested that GALs are more interested in the pay than in the welfare of children. Parents can be jailed for failure to pay GALs.
5. In some cases, getting a high paying GAL assignment required a cozy relationship with an attorney representing one side of the custody case.
The legislation that will take effect in October, SB 494, addresses most of the complaints listed above. Specifically, it allows parents to agree on a GAL or an attorney for the minor child (AMC) from a list of fifteen candidates proposed by the judge. If they can’t agree, and the judge appoints a GAL, then this decision is appealable. Most importantly, the judge is required, within 21 days, to issue an order clarifying the work to be done by the GAL or AMC, to set forth the fee schedule and to set deadlines on the completion of that work.
This increase in transparency strongly discourages a cozy money-making relationship between GAL’s and others in the court system. A judge needs to refer to one or more of 16 factors defining the “best interests of the child” when appointing a GAL/AMC and the GAL/AMC will be accountable for using these 16 factors when they represent a child.
Is this real reform or is it an effort to appease advocates for reform? We believe that it represents an important first step towards reform, and that it signals a new direction in the relationship between the legislature and family court officials. For one thing, the judiciary tried to head off the legislation by promising internal court reforms. For another, judges and court insiders lobbied hard to prevent any legislative interference with their activities. Thirdly, “John McKinney, the Republican leader of the state Senate said the bill is a modest first step towards fixing a system ‘that has fallen apart’ (Hartford Courant, Saturday, April 29, 2014, page B4).” Finally, the unanimous vote in a legislature where many members are lawyers provides a compelling indication that family court system must change.
Those advocating for reform include a large, vocal group of parents, grandparents and families known as the Coalition for Connecticut Family Court Reform. Jennifer Verraneault, a GAL based in New Haven and member of a task force studying the issue, has emerged as the leader of this group. Two formally organized groups support broad reforms designed to reduce conflict in custody cases and increase involvement of both parents unless there is evidence of abuse or neglect: the Shared Parenting Council of Connecticut (SPC) and the National Parents Organization (NPO).
Rep. Gonzalez embraced the need for family court reform, even at the beginning of the process when she was ridiculed as a radical. After the unanimous vote, senators and representatives thanked Rep. Gonzalez for not giving up on the legislation. Congratulations and hugs rewarded her hard work and dedication to the legislation.
This legislation points towards a sea change in Connecticut family law. For the first time, the legislature has substantially restricted the actions of family court judges, imposing specific limits on how they act. Prior to this, judges had broad latitude to determine vaguely defined “best interests of the child,” and this often resulted in marginalizing one parent, as well as fostering greater legal dispute. A small change embedded in the new legislation may have broad consequences: in any case, even one not involving a GAL or AMC, judges are now required to articulate which of the 16 factors (or possibly some other consideration) they use when determining the best interests of the child.
A new direction was set by the Connecticut legislature on April 25, but much work still needs to be done to ensure that children are not arbitrarily deprived of access to a capable parent, or disadvantaged financially by the excessive cost of a custody dispute. The SPC and NPO have expressed a willingness to meet with family court officials to hammer out further improvements in the family court system.

The full text of SB 494 can be found at: http://www.cga.ct.gov/2014/amd/S/2014SB-00494-R00SA-AMD.htm

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