Testimony on: Shared Parenting and Child Support Guidelines
Florida Commission on Responsible Fatherhood
August 26, 2001, Tampa, Florida
by Nadine G. Mendelsohn-Ziskind
Members of CORF, DADS, Guests, and other speakers,
Shared parenting means both parents have an equal say in what happens to their children. Studies are coming out every day that show the importance of fathers in their children’s lives and the effects that lack of contact with the father have on society - as in higher juvenile crime rates, more unwed teenage mothers, and higher incidences of child abuse.
In divorce, one parent, usually the mother, retains primary responsibility for the children.
Florida statute 61.13 states that, “The court shall order that the parental responsibility for a minor child be shared by both parents . . .”
Frequently, even if so ordered, a workable parenting agreement is not made by the court, nor are the agreements and court orders enforced by the court.
There are several remedies for this situation to consider.
First, remove the discretion of the judges. Make shared parenting mandatory with mandatory sanctions for not adhering to the shared parenting order. Make the parent interfering with parenting liable for the same sanctions as one who does not pay his or her child support:
· Take away the CP’s drivers license
· Hold the interfering parent in contempt of court
· Suspend all CP’s professional licenses
· Immediately grant a change in residential parenting to the non-custodial parent (NCP)
· If the court has three findings of contempt for interference with parenting schedule, it becomes a 3rd degree felony and the interfering parent is subject to time in jail. (Same as SB0400, Felony Dads law.)
In other words, interference in parenting time would have all the same penalties and sanctions as not paying child support. Interference in parenting time shall require the same level of prosecution as failure to pay child support.
If a NCP has to enforce parenting time, he has to pay his own attorney, while the custodial parent gets a state-appointed attorney. Create a Department of Shared Parenting Enforcement to enable the non-custodial parent to receive free attorney and legal aid to enforce orders and prosecute the interfering CP. It would be similar to DOR, only work on enforcement of shared parenting.
Another issue to deal with is the strengthening of the move-away law. Right now a CP can move away with the children and nothing is ever done to bring the children back or to enforce any visitation, no matter what the final judgment or agreement states.
If shared parenting is ordered and, most importantly, enforced, there would be a reduction in the amount of child support enforcement activity. NCPs will pay for their children if they have access to those children.
The payment of child support shall be tied to the parenting schedule. Monetary sanctions in the form of reduction of child support payments shall be scheduled and enforced so that the CP has an incentive to provide and comply with court ordered or agreed parenting schedules. If the CP has a possible financial loss, there would be more incentive for the CP to comply fully with the parenting schedules.
One final provision needs to be in the shared parenting law. If the man finds out that he is not the biological father of the child in question, neither the court nor the mother have the legal standing to remove the child from a relationship with the man she thought as of her father. The “bio-dad” should pay child support for this child, and have the legal right to have parenting time with the child, but the parenting time should not be taken away from the man who thought he was the child’s father.
The current laws regarding child support and parenting must be amended to ensure that both parents have equal and fair access to their children, and that the onerous child support guidelines and punishments for non-payment do not cause the interests of one child or set of children to supercede the interests of other children in the families.
If current statutes cannot be amended to properly reflect changes in society and public perception, then new laws must be created and enforced.
None of the statutes, past, current or future, should deny parents access to their children, and in fact the statutes shall encourage fair and equal access.
If the people in this room, the legislators, the governing politicos, the Fatherhood commissions and all others claiming to work on behalf of the child really believe that their mission is to make things better for children, then the “bests interests of one child” should not supercede the best interests of other children in these families. Step children and children born of new relationships become non-entities in family court, yet they are the ones who suffer most and contribute the most to the “best interests of the child,” the other child.
Thank you for allowing me to speak. Good evening.