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New plan lets judges lower parents’ child support bills

 

The expenses of noncustodial parents will be recognized

From – St. Louis Post-Dispatch

July 28, 1998

JEFFERSON CITY – Missouri judges can now lower child support payments for the time noncustodial parents – most of them dads – spend with their children. Under a new system recently approved by the state Supreme Court, noncustodial parents can also get credit for things such as day care expenses, parochial school tuition and select hockey team costs.

Lori Levine, a Jefferson City attorney, said the expenses of noncustodial parents have been ignored for too long. Food,, clothing and entertainment costs add up, “I think it’s probably as close to reality as it ought to be,” she said of the new system. Not everyone is happy.

Leigh Joy Carson, a Clayton attorney who specializes in family law, worries that the new system will be abused. Noncustodial parents may ask for more time with their children, even if they don’t want them around, just to have lower child support payments, she said.

At the center of the debate is Form 14, a piece of paper that looks like an income tax return. The state Supreme Court approved the new form on July 9, after rejecting earlier drafts. It will now be used with other documents as a rough guide to figure out child support payments.

The most controversial part of the new form is the idea of credits for the time spent with children. Under the new system, noncustodial parents who keep their children overnight 92 to 109 times a year, for example, could get 10 percent off their child support payments.

The form takes effect Oct. 1. Until then, judges have the option of using the form in calculating support payments.

Carson said the system should favor custodial parents, who generally pick up extra expenses like Boys Life magazine or Girl Scout fees. The basic child support rates are based on the expenses of intact families, Carson said, which she says makes support payments too small.

The new system could hurt low-income parents, she said. “I think it’s a bad deal for the custodial parent. For some of these people, you’re taking away $30 a month. It makes a big difference.”

Marty Witbeck, 35, of O’Fallon, Mo., said the courts should more carefully account for the child support costs in both homes and divide the money accordingly. Witbeck is president of the St. Louis chapter of the American Coalition for Fathers and Children. He said the system is still slanted toward mothers.

The latest changes are “a step in the right direction – a very small baby step,” he said.

Mark H. Willenbrink, Warson Woods’ police chief, said he and his second ex-wife worked out their child support arrangements on their own. When his daughter from that marriage spends vacations with him, he does not pay child support. ‘When you rely on the courts to straighten out your situation, it’s not going to work,” he said.

While Willenbrink sympathized with so-called “mad dad” groups, he said mothers and fathers need to get past the need for revenge.

“They don’t know what it does to the kids,” he said. David Collignon, who will teach classes on the changing system for the Missouri Bar Association, said the new form is an effort to make the system more understandable. Not everyone agrees that it has succeeded. I “We’re catching a lot of heat,” said Collignon, a family law attorney who used to practice in Clayton. Referring to Form 14, he added, “you damn near need a CPA to look at this thing.”

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