Thursday, September 02, 2004

The courts don't understand child support

Child support calculations are driven by a silly program that is not understood by the users. The Calif. court of appeals said in 1994:
We cannot conclude without commenting about what the Legislature has done in adopting California's child support statutes. These statutes were adopted under the compulsion of federal law requiring each state to adopt child support guidelines which create a rebuttable presumption that the amount established by the guideline is correct, although the presumption can be rebutted and a different amount ordered if there is a finding in writing or on the record that the application of the guidelines would be unjust or inappropriate. (42 U.S.C., § 667.) fn. 6

Instead of adopting a guideline, California's Legislature adopted an algebraic formula to calculate the presumptively correct amount of child support which will usually require the use of a computer and a software program to determine the amount of child support under the formula. There is no way the parties can understand how the court determined the amount ordered. This is particularly true as to parties in child support proceedings -- well over 50 percent -- who are unrepresented by counsel because they cannot afford to be represented by counsel.

These are proceedings where emotions and the level of conflict are already running high. A bad situation becomes more inflamed when an order for child support is calculated in a manner which the parties do not understand.

Indeed, the entire statutory scheme appears to be an unprecedented effort by the Legislature to micromanage child support hearings and determinations in a manner which was neither contemplated nor required by federal law. The result is a process of determining child support which is complex and unduly costly, which requires the use of a computer and which is not [26 Cal.App.4th 1041] understood by anyone, least of all the affected parties. There is no way that either the payor or the recipient of child support, even if represented by counsel, can comprehend how the court determined the amount ordered. As the trial court stated during the course of one of the seven separate hearings in this case: "I guess you're pointing up the absurdity of the legislative efforts in this area, aren't you? How do we get to these guys? Maybe somebody [who] authored this bill should explain it." fn. 7

­FN 7. No legislator can explain it. In the late spring of 1992, when the bill enacting the present child support statute to be operative July 1, 1992, was being passed by the Legislature, the author, and then other legislators, were invited to attend the annual Family Law and Procedure Institute to discuss it with California's family law judges. All declined, and one was frank enough to state no legislator would accept an invitation to discuss the statute because no legislator understood it. [In re Marriage of Fini (1994) 26 Cal.App.4th 1033 , 31 Cal.Rptr.2d 749]
The formula is not really that complicated, but the fact that it was passed and implemented by people who don't understand it is absurd.

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