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Expect to pay more in child support
Proposed guidelines show hefty increase for middle class

By M.J. Ellington · (334) 262-1104

MONTGOMERY — Divorced parents who do not have custody of their children could soon pay more-or-less in child support.

If you are a middle-income parent, expect to dig up to 36 percent deeper in your pocket if the Alabama Supreme Court adopts a proposed pay schedule.

Parents whose incomes fall at the bottom of a new payment scale likely will pay less.

Those at the top of the new schedule likely won’t see as big a percentage increase after September.

The new schedule will affect only divorces finalized after the court adopts a schedule. But a new schedule could result in parents returning to court to modify existing agreements.

A committee that advises the Alabama Supreme Court about state child-support policies and guidelines believes it is time to adjust the Alabama Child Support Schedule. Courts use the schedule to determine child support that parents pay or receive.

If the court adopts the committee’s recommendations, parents earning from $1,250 to $5,450 per month before taxes would pay the biggest increases. Those increases would range from 10 percent to 32.6 percent more than the current schedule.

Parents with income of $5,500 or more would also pay more, but in increases ranging from 0.5 percent to 9.5 percent. Parents earning less than $1,100 before taxes would pay as much as 71 percent less.

But the Supreme Court is concerned about the possible impact of the proposed changes, particularly double-digit increases for middle-class parents. So it asked the Advisory Committee on Child Support Guidelines and Enforcement to review the issue. The committee meets Sept. 21 in Montgomery.

‘Devastating’ impact

One Decatur attorney whose practice includes clients paying child support said the proposed changes could be “devastating” for parents with modest incomes and could result in more people falling behind in child-support payments.

“You are going to fill up the jails with non-compliant parents,” said attorney Eric Summerford. “If you do that, they are not out making money to pay child support.”

But he also believes some change is overdue because the state schedule uses income ranges adopted more than a decade ago for money intended to take care of children at today’s prices.

Other options needed?

Some parent group advocates, and at least one member of the child support committee, believe the committee should consider other options.

Summerford pays child support. He said he sees an impact, but less extreme impact, for parents at higher income levels, if the state adopts the new guidelines. The state bases child-support amounts on schedules showing the amount of money a parent earns before taxes, insurance or other deductions, Summerford said.

That means that the parent earning $1,250 per month actually takes home closer to $950 to $1,000 per month. If the state adopted the committee’s recommendations, the parent would need an additional 30 cents per hour in income to pay the increase.

Summerford said the parent whose income is $2,250 per month, or about $12.98 per hour, would need an additional 58 cents per hour, the equivalent of a 4 percent raise.

“I know what they are trying to do,” Summerford said, of the committee’s proposed changes. “But at that income level, that is a substantial change.”

Two fathers, Tim Smith of Decatur and advisory committee member James R. Blackston of Vestavia Hills, want more opportunity for public comment before committee decisions.

“It is parents in the middle who pay the most, while people who have the most income and political influence pay less.” Smith said. “Everyone understands why people at the lower end pay less.”

Summerford said some expenses, such as housing and utilities, do not increase in equal percentages with each additional child, so those expenses seem higher for one child than more than one.

Smith, who has a 13-year-old son, and Blackston, whose children are adults, are concerned about the impact of two other proposed changes: prorating insurance costs and credit for children born before or after the divorce.

Another committee member, Benjamin W. Patterson of Montgomery, has a financial background and worked for the state Finance Department under two governors. He also believes the proposed payment schedule could be a financial hardship for many people, but he disagrees that the committee ignores public concerns. While many members are professionals, Patterson said, they represent many professionals with different perspectives.

“This committee made a recommendation to the court,” Patterson said. “It is my understanding that the court had concern about the impact on families and asked the committee to look at it again.”

Like Blackston, Patterson said he did not vote for the child-support payment model that the committee will review in September.

On the day the committee adopted the model, he said, at least one other committee member voted against it.

He said the model does not consider the fact that divorced families have two households, usually two sets of mortgages or rent payments and two sets of household expenses while intact families do not. That means that a parent paying child support has less disposable income than the theoretical shared-income family model the committee used as the basis for the child-support schedule it recommended, he said.

The committee will also reconsider two other recommendations it made to the high court. They include whether to give credit for other children a parent paying child support may have, including those born after an existing child-support order; and whether to prorate the whole amount or child’s portion only on health insurance costs.

The committee recommended increases in child-support amounts for different income levels last September. This is a requirement for states to receive federal child welfare funds.

Child support

What: Advisory Committee on Child Support Guidelines and Enforcement meeting.

When: Sept. 21 at 10 a.m., open to public.

Where: Heflin-Torbert Judicial Building, 300 Dexter Ave., Montgomery.

Why: Reconsider recommendations to state child support guidelines.

Who: Jane Venohr, a Denver policy analyst, will discuss proposals.

Other: The Alabama Supreme Court appoints advisory committee members.

M.J. Ellington

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