Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Minnesota - Child-support, custody laws moving along

Excerpts below, full article at the St Paul Pioneer Press

Child-support, custody laws moving along

Sen. Tom Neuville has introduced SF630, which would revamp the child-support laws. A companion bill, HF 1321, authored by Rep. Steve Smith, has been merged with similar bills offered by Reps. Rob Eastlund and Tim Mahoney and is moving through the House.

Neuville's bill would more fairly allocate child support between mother and father. Under current law, child support is based solely on the income of the parent who pays it, usually the father. Under Neuville's proposal, child support would be calculated based on the income of both parents.

Indeed, there are 37 states with "income-share" models that factor in the income of both parents for child support. Neuville's bill also includes adjustments for parenting time, which about a dozen other states already factor in.

"If the father has the kids 25 percent of the time, he's going to pay 25 percent of food, transportation and entertainment," he said. "We have to acknowledge that the noncustodial parent incurs some of those costs."

"Our present system encourages parents to wage war over the 'ownership' of the children," McNabb testified. "It gives financial and emotional rewards to the 'victorious' parent. It puts the children in the middle, where they lose no matter which parent 'wins.'"

In 1998, the Minnesota Supreme Court set up a task force of judges, lawyers, legislators and women's advocates. In January 2000, it issued its report, recommending "separating the amount of child support from parenting-plan issues will prevent parties from using a parenting plan to manipulate the amount of child support."

McNabb also cited Section 518.17 of the Minnesota statute, which reads in part, "In determining custody, the court shall consider the best interests of each child and shall not prefer one parent over the other solely on the basis of the sex of the parent."

Despite these past efforts, the House sponsors feel their bill is necessary because mothers are still predominantly named the custodial parent in Minnesota. After hearing the testimony of McNabb and others, the House committee agreed to an amendment that would make joint physical custody the default position if divorcing parties can't agree to a parenting plan within 270 days of filing for divorce, a change from the 90 days the bill originally proposed.

"We may try and split the difference," said Mahoney. But while he thinks the bill has a good chance of passing the House, he doesn't hold out much hope for the Senate. Neither does Neuville.

Ironically, Neuville's bill doesn't have widespread support from fathers or mothers, either.

"I get it from both sides," he said. "Fathers don't think the bill goes far enough. Mothers' groups and family lawyers don't want to see money leaving the system."

That's too bad. Because both the House and Senate legislation offer common-sense solutions to what has been a historical unfairness. It'd be a shame to see all this legislation result in only minor changes in a system very much in need of widespread reform.

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