June 10, 2014 by John M Clapp, Executive Committee Member, National Parents Organization of Connecticut; and Chair, Shared Parenting Council of Connecticut
The Connecticut Child Support Guidelines Commission has split on the issue of unreasonably high child support guidelines and its implications for parental involvement with their children. This split is particularly relevant in light of the Massachusetts shared parenting guidelines adopted in 2013. Massachusetts had data showing that a large percentage of couples agree to amounts far below Guidelines. This raises the issue of why any state adopts Guidelines that many consider unreasonable.
The Department of Social Services (DSS) paid for an economic study of the Guidelines. The Study recommended lowering Guideline percentages at the low income levels, raising the percentages at middle and high income levels. The Commission voted to accept the recommendation to raise the percentages but rejected the proposal to lower the percentages for low income obligors.
DSS has recognized that these policies can damage a child’s relationship with his or her parents. A 2014 letter from DSS Commissioner Rodrick L. Bremby makes the case for accepting the entire economic study. He says “A father’s emotional, social and educational support as well as financial support is imperative to the growth of a well-rounded child.” He states that the percentages required of low income obligors are unrealistic and “counterproductive to fostering the parent-child relationship as it may lead to uncollectable child support orders and drive noncustodial parents to underground economies and alienation from their children.”
After the vote to retain unrealistic percentages, David Mulligan, Director, Bureau of Child Support Enforcement, resigned as chair of the Commission. DSS stated its intentions to withdraw staff support from the Commission unless the partial adoption is reversed. Staff support is considered essential to completion of the Commission’s task because drafting of regulations is a highly specialized activity.
National Parents Organization and Shared Parenting Council continue to advocate for shared parenting guidelines and for repeal of unrealistically high percentages of income.
Details on the Split in Connecticut’s Commission:
- The Commission has been meeting for 4.5 years and it still has not adopted new Guidelines. Current Guidelines are from 2005.
- The Commission funded an economic study as the basis for new child support Guidelines. It was completed June 5, 2012 by Jane Venohr, PhD, Center for Policy Research (CPR), Denver, Colorado.
- The CPR Commission study recommended lowering Guideline percentages for low income obligors and raising them for high income.
- There has been a nationwide trend towards reducing child support percentages at low incomes because they are considered unreasonably high.
- Unreasonable percentages lead to arrearages and possibly to incarceration.
- In Connecticut, the low income Guideline percentages go up to 54.5% and withholding from income is capped at 55%. Direct payments for child care and unreimbursed medical can go beyond the 55% cap.
- The Commission decided to adopt the increases but rejected the decreases.
- Subsequently the Commission held extensive public hearings. There was a lot of testimony for reductions at low income levels and for sharing of financial responsibility at all levels.
- Several representatives from the Child Support Enforcement Division (in Connecticut’s Department of Social Services, DSS) testified on behalf of low income obligors, and many of these obligors testified on their own behalf.
- Their argument is that public policy should encourage involvement of both parents, that unreasonably high child support is counter-productive to fostering the parent-child relationship, lead to arrearages and uncollectible amounts.
- In Connecticut in 2012 there were combined arrearages of over $1.5 billion compared to collections of only $245 million.1 This ratio of over $6 in arrearages for every dollar collected indicates an unrealistic set of child support guidelines.
- An alarming percentage of low income parents are incarcerated because they cannot prove that they made good faith efforts to pay.
- A 2014 letter from DSS Commissioner Rodrick L. Bremby makes the case for accepting the entire CPR study. He says “A father’s emotional, social and educational support as well as financial support is imperative to the growth of a well-rounded child.”
- The Commission has determined to ignore public testimony and to persist with its plan to adopt only part of the CPR study. It had an evenly split vote on the issue; under the rules, the partial CPR adoption stands.
- At the split vote was conducted in the absence of the sole representative of obligors, Ernie Lagoja.
As of May 29, 2014, David Mulligan, Director, Bureau of Child Support Enforcement, has resigned as chair of the Commission.
- The Commission elected two new chairs, both in private law practice.
- DSS has stated its intentions to withdraw staff support from the Commission unless the partial adoption is reversed. Staff support is considered essential to completion of the Commission’s task because drafting of regulations is a highly specialized activity.
Why child support guidelines should encourage shared parenting
In 1987, the (national) Advisory Panel on Child Support Guidelines recommended that states enact guidelines that encourage the involvement of both parents in the child’s upbringing and take into consideration the financial support provided by parents in shared custody and extended visitation arrangements.
In 2005, Connecticut enacted a law encouraging shared parenting, PA05-258.2 New language in that bill provided specifically that:
- “the court shall enter orders accordingly that serve the best interests of the child and provide the child with the active and consistent involvement of both parents commensurate with their abilities and interests.”
PA05-258 further enacted 16 factors to be considered when determining the best interests of the child, including the desire of the parents to be involved, the history of the child’s interaction with the parents, and
- “(6) the willingness and ability of each parent to facilitate and encourage such continuing parent-child relationship between the child and the other parent as is appropriate, including compliance with any court orders;
- (7) any manipulation by or coercive behavior of the parents in an effort to involve the child in the parents’ dispute; ”
PA05-258 provided for detailed parental responsibility plans dealing with parenting time, decision making responsibility and mechanisms for dispute resolution. Connecticut’s child support guidelines have never been revised to reflect this history, or to deal with the accelerating trend towards couples who agree to substantial shared parenting arrangements.
1 http://www.ncsl.org/research/human-services/2012-state-by-state-child-support-collections.aspx Jump back to footnote 1 in the text.
2This followed recommendations of the Governor’s Commission on Divorce, Custody and Children co-chaired by the Honorable Anne C. Dranginis and Thomas C. Foley, 2002. Jump back to footnote 2 in the text.
National Parents Organization is a Shared Parenting Organization
National Parents Organization is a non-profit that educates the public, families, educators, and legislators about the importance of shared parenting and how it can reduce conflict in children, parents, and extended families. Along with Shared Parenting we advocate for fair Child Support and Alimony Legislation. Want to get involved? Here’s how:
Together, we can drive home the family, child development, social and national benefits of shared parenting, and fair child support and alimony. Thank you for your activism.