Thursday, February 10, 2005

Child Support Changes in Mass and NH?

I am copying this verbatim from an email list I am on:

The child support showdown is under way in Massachusetts.

Under federal law, Massachusetts must review and possibly revise its Child Support Guidelines this year. (As you probably know, the Guidelines are a formula that is used to compute your child support order. It is based on the number of children, his income, her income, and a few other factors.)

In Massachusetts, the responsibility for the Guidelines falls to the Chief Justice for Administration and Management, Robert A. Mulligan. Fathers & Families has begun its campaign for child support reform by writing Chief Justice Mulligan and requesting a meeting.

As some of you remember, Fathers & Families single-handedly won substantial reductions in the Guidelines in 2002. Whether we are able to win additional child-friendly changes will depend entirely on YOU: how many new members you recruit, how energetic you are in supporting this cause, and your financial support. There are powerful forces that would like to raise the Guidelines even higher than they have been in the past. Fathers & Families is the only force standing between them and success.

Meanwhile, there are revolutionary changes next door in New Hampshire. Due in part to the incessant efforts of Representative David Bickford, the New Hampshire Legislature created a commission to study child support. It issued its report on December 1, 2004, and it is quite amazing.

The New Hampshire Commission found "the current New Hampshire Child Support Guidelines to be unfair and inappropriate in many circumstances and in dire need of reform and revision."

New Hampshire, like Massachusetts, declares that the objective of its Guidelines is to maintain the same standard of living in the custodial parent's household that would have existed had the marriage remained intact. The Commission took particular aim at this principle. A majority of the Commission concluded that the objective of child support payments is to assure that a child's basic needs are met. The Commission quoted a 1986 Minnesota case, Moylan v. Moylan as follows, "The government's interest in family expenditures on children is limited to ensuring that the children's basic needs are met. Not extravagances, not luxuries, but needs. Once that occurs, government intrusion must cease." The report went on to say that the Commission "agrees 'standard of living' should not be a concern of government and government should not be collecting money on behalf of a 'lifestyle' that government has no interest in measuring or actually enforcing." Along the same lines, the Commission wrote, "The economic reality of maintaining multiple households may be inconsistent with maintaining the 'standard of living' of the children in the initial family."

The Commission also recognized that, "Child support is often in excess of the cost of raising children, which encourages litigation."

The Commission also recognized that it is not good for children to base a child support order on the income from overtime work or a second job (unless necessary to meet the child's basic needs), because the order will then be so high that the non-custodial parent will be forced to work endless hours, and will thus be unable to be a parent to his child.

The Commission also recognized that, like Massachusetts, the New Hampshire Guidelines almost guarantee that the second family of a non-custodial parent will be worse off than his first family.

The Commission also recognized that in New Hampshire, like Massachusetts, an increase in earnings by the recipient of child support has almost no effect on the child support award. They stated, "This result is contrary to professional studies on child costs. . ."

The New Hampshire Commission's central recommendation is quite revolutionary. It calls on the state to scrape efforts to base child support awards on something as elusive as the "standard of living" and instead to provide "basic costs" of raising a child. After reviewing four sources of data on the actual costs of raising a child, the Commission concluded that the basic cost in New Hampshire is somewhere on the order of $400 to $600 a month, probably excluding healthcare costs.

The New Hampshire Commission report is one of the first to take a cold hard look at the realities of child support. It discards the pieties, platitudes and slogans that form the basis of Child Support Guidelines in most states and substitutes critical analysis. It remains to be seen whether New Hampshire will implement the recommendations of its Commission.

You can contact Fathers & Families or Rep Bickford through the highlighted links above.

UPDATE: Here is a link to the actual NH Child Support Report. It is a PDF so make sure you have Adobe Reader

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