The federal Office of Child Support Enforcement (OCSE) has proposed that states revise unrealistically high child support guidelines. Details are at: http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/css
OCSE proposes to update Federal regulations in § 302.56 that address State guidelines for setting child support awards. Highlights of changes proposed by OCSE:
- Compliance with child support orders increases dramatically if the award is in the range of 15-20% of the noncustodial parent’s income.
- Compliance helps custodial families achieve economic stability, and this is especially important to millions of low-to-moderate income families.
- Consistent, predictable child support payments are important to families, and extensive research shows that realistic child support orders promote consistent payments.
- “A growing body of research finds that compliance with child support orders in some States, regardless of income level, declines when the support obligation is set above 15–20 percent of the obligor’s income, and that orders for excessive amounts result in lower, not higher, child support payments.” (Federal Register, v79, no 221, p. 68554)
Unrealistic orders produce incarceration and unmanageable arrearages. This can lead to a downward spiral in the involvement of the non-custodial parent with his or her child. Walter L Scott, the black man recently shot and killed by police got behind on child support, and as a result he lost “the best job I ever had.” Then his life spiraled out of control, causing him to tussle with police before being shot in the back as he ran away from his unmanageable arrearages. Source: The New York Times, http://nyti.ms/1yJelpe.
Connecticut is out of compliance. Connecticut’s Guidelines that require up to 55% of income for child support; typical amounts are 25% to 35% of income – with substantial medical expenses added on top. When is the legislature going to address unrealistic child support orders?
The Economist, a highly respected weekly news magazine reports that “Chaildren whose fathers take even short spells of paternity leave do better (May 16th, 2015, p 54).” The Economist article covers parental leave policies – and the trend towards parental leave for both parents – in 185 countries. Nearly half these countries now offer new fathers short periods at home. Unfortunately, the US has one of the least accommodating policies, covering only a subset of women, and no men, with unpaid leave.
Why encourage both parents to spend time with their new baby? One reason is that women will then face less discrimination in hiring, since they will be able to return to work more quickly after giving birth. Their skills will not suffer from extended absence from the workforce, so their lifetime earnings improve. Secondly, dads who took time off are more likely to pitch in on basic child care like changing diapers, feeding, bathing and playing.
The patterns established early in the baby’s life persisted into childhood. The data suggest that school children with two involved parents benefit with better grades, lower truancy and fewer behavioral problems.
The SPC advocates amendments to Connecticut’s HB 5505 to reduce conflict by giving each parent an incentive to support the other parents. This implements CT’s 2005 law – other states (MA, MD and others) are implementing shared parenting. Here are the proposed amendments:
Purpose: establishing the presumption of behavior encouraging parental involvement
Sec. 4. Section 46b-56 of the general statutes is amended by adding subsection (j) as follows (Effective October 1, 2015):
(new) (j) In cases involving an existing Parental Responsibility Plan (PRP), or any existing custodial order, statutory factors (6) and (7) of Conn. Gen. Sats 46b-56(c ) shall determine the resolution of any dispute. A pattern of noncompliance with existing custodial orders, or with an existing PRP provides evidence of unwillingness to foster a good parent-child relationship (violation of factor 6) and/or manipulative or coercive behavior (factor 7). Such pattern of noncompliance will result in a finding in favor of the other parent.
Note: the relevant factors:
(6) the willingness and ability of each parent to facilitate and encourage such continuing parent-child relationship between the child and the other parent as is appropriate, including compliance with any court orders;
(7) any manipulation by or coercive behavior of the parents in an effort to involve the child in the parents’ dispute.
Rationale: to reduce litigation by establishing the primary role of behavior fostering a good relationship with the other parent.
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.
When: Monday March 31, preferably near 8am, but any time after that is OK.
Between 8am and 10am you sign up for a lottery number. After that you sign at the bottom of the list of speakers. Expect to compete with many people testifying.
Where: Legislative Office Building, Second floor. Driving directions:
http://www.cga.ct.gov/asp/menu/DrivingDirections.asp. If the Parking Garage is full (which is likely), there’s a pay garage in a commercial building on Oak Street opposite the entrance to the Appellate Clerk’s office.
What: Bill 6685 – shared parenting; RB 494 -GAL reform; Bill 5524, alimony reform
If you can’t attend, submit written testimony by email: JUD.Testimony@cga.ct.gov . You can even submit written testimony through Tuesday, April 1.
Please testify to any of the following points that agree with your thinking and experience:
• Most of the problems – alienation, excessive cost, and experts trying to substitute their opinions for the parents’ – could be solved if judges, family relations officers and others simply asked repeatedly: which parent is more likely to provide “frequent, meaningful, and continuing contact” between the child and the other parent?
o The courts need to clearly send the message that each parent must promote frequent and meaningful contact with the other parent.
o Of course there are exceptions in cases with proven violence, neglect or abuse.
• Guardian Ad Litems (GALs) need to be carefully supervised as specified in RB494. Here is a link to the full text: http://www.cga.ct.gov/2014/TOB/S/2014SB-00494-R00-SB.htm
o RB 494 will be hotly contested by professionals who are making lots of money on the existing family court system.
o The Shared Parenting Council supports RB 494 as a step in the direction of much needed reform.
• Modify RB 494 to require GALs to promoting active involvement by both parents.
• Alimony requires guidelines for judges to follow. This will ensure consistency across courts in Connecticut.
• Absent abuse, neglect and domestic violence, children have the constitutional right to have both parents equally involved in their lives.
• There’s no oversight or accountability of the court appointed professionals such as GALs, AMCs, Psychological Evaluators. This opens the door to a few who want to exploit the system. Only in very rare circumstances should a judge appoint a GAL or any other individual to a family absent proven abuse and neglect.
• Absent findings of abuse or neglect the judge should be required to tell counsel and parties that we have a presumption of shared equal parenting time. If the parents disagree about the amount of time, then the burden of proof is on the parent who is not agreeing to up to 50% time for the other parent.
• The judge will enforce the laws and then sanction parents who lie to the court or mislead the court in an attempt to seek more parenting time. Sanctions need to be monetary and/or in the form of community service.
• Parental alienation: a Judge needs to be alerted in an emergency hearing that a child about potential alienation. DCF will be called in. Hopefully this will be a detergent for any alienator in their early stages of abuse.
We had a tremendous turnout in January, and as a result the Judicial Branch is beginning the process of reform.
Don’t miss this opportunity to participate in these major changes in Connecticut law.
Oregon recently passed a law making false allegations a class A crime — but the punishment is $750, and that requires proving “the intent to influence a custody, parenting time, visitation or child support decision (419B.016 Offense of false report of child abuse).”
It is not much, but then again, most states make no effort to punish false allegations.
As a lawyer, Jeanne M. Hannah points out: “These false allegations can not only make the family law case much more difficult and lead to terrible injustice, they can ruin parent-child relationships and change lives forever. I find myself hoping more states will enact such laws and wondering whether the law will make a difference.” Good thinking Jeanne.