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Court committee delays vote on child support

By M.J. Ellington · (334) 262-1104

MONTGOMERY — A state Supreme Court advisory committee delayed a final vote
Friday on proposed changes to child-support guidelines, pending an Oct. 30 hearing in federal court.

The state Advisory Committee on Child Support Guidelines and Enforcement heard from an expert the state hired to help update the 20-year-old Alabama Schedule of Basic Child Support Obligations. Judges use the schedule to help determine how much child support divorced parents pay at different income levels.

The committee also heard from parents who object to the proposed changes, which they say hurt middle-income parents more than others.

The parents said the committee’s cost-of-living estimates use models based on intact families and discount the double expenses of two households. They also accused the committee of not getting enough input from people most affected by the guidelines.

Paying up to 32.6% more

If the Supreme Court adopted the 2006 recommendations, parents earning from $1,250 to $5,450 per month before taxes would pay the biggest increases, ranging from 10 percent to 32.6 percent.

Parents with incomes 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.

The proposed increases rankled James R. Blackston, a former non-custodial parent on the committee, who said he sued the state on multiple occasions on issues related to child support and the committee.

Blackston and Bradley Barber filed for an injunction. U.S. District Judge W. Harold Albritton refused to stop the meeting but will hear arguments on the injunction on Oct. 30 in Montgomery.

The men contend that the committee did not seek enough public comment or give enough opportunity for public review of the proposed changes.

Public notices

Supreme Court staff attorney Wayne Jones said the committee posts meeting notices on the secretary of state’s Web site and sent notices to newspapers and radio and television stations.

Austin Humbler of Dora urged the committee to reconsider the increases and not to adopt rules that adversely affect a parent’s other children. He said the committee needs to hear more from parents who must live with decisions it makes.

“I pay $1,600 per month now in child support for two children,” Humbler said. “I see them every other weekend, one week at Christmas and three weeks in the summer.

“I pay all of the health insurance and medical expenses. But if I am making $50,000 per year and my ex-wife is making $50,000 per year, it is my income you consider when you set my child support.”

Humbler’s present wife, Tracy McMichens, said that without her income, her husband could not meet his child support obligations and that increases would jeopardize their ability to remain financially solvent. The decisions about child support also affect other children in a family, including the couple’s son, she said.

“How can I look in that child’s face and say, ‘No, son, you cannot play ball because we don’t have the money?’ ” she asked. “Siblings in the other family have new clothes, trips to the beach, four-wheelers.”

Jane Venohr, a Denver-based economist and child-support policy expert, helped develop the proposed schedule and related guidelines.

Both parents

Friday, Venohr stressed the figures in her income tables were for income of both parents, not just the one paying child support.

“This is not a tax,” Venohr said. “It is about a child getting what a child needs and what the parents’ ability is to pay.” The average increase for a parent of one child is about 15 percent over current amounts, she said.

Federal analysis found that parents making less than $10,000 per year owed 80 percent of back child support — likely an issue of affordability — she said. Alabama parents owe $2.2 billion in back child support, she said.

Venohr said increases in the cost of health insurance and child care both helped drive the recommendations.

Jones, the lawyer, said the committee will discuss proposed changes in the guidelines at a future meeting that will be open to the public. The date has not been set.

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