Tuesday, May 10, 2005

More about child support, custody - New Hampshire

More about child support, custody - Fosters

This is written by State Representative David A. Bickford. I am reprinting the entire article...

A recent Associated Press article about child support and custody which appeared May 2 mischaracterized some issues. As vice chair of the commission to study child support and related child custody issues, I feel compelled to fill in some of the blanks.

The commission did not recommend cutting child support to the bone. The commission does need to have information about costs of raising children and basic costs is a starting place for government to study what that should include. But it won’t be bare-bones. What luxuries should be added is up for debate.

Paying “only” half the costs as the reporter put it would actually be an increase for some people to pay. The commission also recommended a sharing of child-care costs by both parents which is not done in the present system. That wasn’t reported.

The commission did recommend judges presume custody will be shared unless credible evidence shows a different arrangement is in the best interest of the child and felt it was an appropriate starting point. Constitutionally and statutorily both parents are considered in the best interest of their children with equal custody of their children, so why arbitrarily assume otherwise.

The present system assumes divorcing parents are low-income and would consume 25 percent of their income to support a child and 33 percent of their income for two children, 40 percent for three children and 45 four for four children. The present system also assumes one of the parents is absent 100% of the time and has no child related expenses at all.

New Hampshire thought it had adopted an income-shares model, but the commission discovered it had inadvertently adopted a “percent of obligor” model instead, meaning child support only applies to one parent regardless of the income of the other parent.

New Hampshire has no underlying study to support the present system. The studies thought to support it show there should be a decrease in the percentage to be awarded as income increases. New Hampshire adopted an incomplete plan. Also, most states cap the amount of income to be considered for calculating child support known as a presumptive floor. They recognize the costs of raising children have limits. New Hampshire never incorporated the limits. The commission learned there is no way of assuring money over and above the cost of raising a child is spent on the child. The commission felt it needed more information from an economic study to determine what that limit should be rather than just copy another state.

For states to get matching federal funds the federal government requires states to review, and if appropriate revise, child support guidelines at least every four years, and when reviewing the guidelines a state must consider economic data on the cost of raising children. The data the commission had was outdated, and the economists that developed it would not stand behind it to be used as a presumption in law as the federal government also requires states to do.

Some quotes by commission members appear to be misapplied in the story. No model was recommended that would leave children in one household having just “broth and bread” as a quote from attorney Tom Cooper implies.

A quote by commission member attorney Catherine Feeney states, “The mothers were not represented” is misleading. The commission had two very capable mothers representing custodial parents, however there was only one non-custodial parent represented on the commission. The commission held four public hearings in various locations around the state. The commission had no funding to advertise but did put out public notices in newspapers and in child support offices throughout the entire state. Everyone that came was heard.

The NH Women's Lobby followed the commission's work very closely and attended meetings as well as the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence. The Commission on the Status of Women was well aware of the commission’s work. These organizations have a very successful history of getting the word out to women. More parents sending child support did show up at the public hearings. However, the commission did not allow emotions or "disgruntled dads" to skew or inspire its recommendations.

Rep. David A. Bickford, a state representative from New Durham, is vice chair of a commission studying child support and custody issues in the state.

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