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South Dakota Relents on Oppressive, Exploitative and Destructive Child Support Legislation

http://www.aberdeennews.com/mld/aberdeennews/news/10703089.htm

Aberdeen News
21 January 2005

Changes proposed in child-support system

By Joe Kafka
Associated Press

(PIERRE, S.D.) AP - Estranged parents should not have to pay more than half of their monthly incomes in child support, legislators decided Friday, sending a package of recommended changes to the full Senate.

Circuit Judge Max Gors, who chaired a special commission last year that reviewed the state child-support system, told the Senate Judiciary Committee an upper limit should be set on payments. He said some parents told the commission that 75 percent to 80 percent of their incomes went for child support.

"People are paying, in some cases, so much of their incomes there's nothing left for them to live on," Gors said.

The legislation would generally consider it a financial hardship if parents' total support obligations exceed half of their incomes.

SB60, endorsed unanimously by the committee, also would change existing law so incomes from second jobs would not be counted toward child-support obligations. Parents employed full-time who make at least the legal minimum wage would not be in danger of having wages from second jobs used to calculate child support, Gors said.

Another provision would pare the current six-year period on back payments of child support to three years after a woman with a child born out of wedlock first requests it. Trying to make up six years' of payments is difficult for many fathers, Gors said.

"A lot of (them) just give up and walk away," he said.

The clock on back support would begin ticking when a mother files court papers, asks the Division of Child Support Enforcement Services to pursue child support on her behalf, or notifies the father in a letter that is delivered personally, by registered mail or by certified mail.

The legislation also would strengthen shared parenting provisions in state law by requiring agreements in writing for expenses dealing with a child's education, recreation and entertainment.

Written agreements for those expenses would result in fewer disputes, Gors said. "Because you have to agree to shared parenting, we've suggested that it has to be in writing."

Linda Lea Viken, a former legislator and a Rapid City lawyer who also served on the commission studying child support, said shared parenting arrangements frequently end up in squabbles over money.

"Right now, every situation ends up in court because there's nothing in writing," she said.

The bill would deal with instances when parents have agreed to a change in physical custody of a child without a judge's approval. The parent giving up custody may be ordered to pay child support even though the court order has not been changed to reflect the new circumstances.

SB60 won unanimous approval Friday.

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Posted 2005 01 22