Legislation would update Kentucky's 'outdated' child support guidelines

vhoneycutt@herald-leader.comFebruary 18, 2013 

A Fayette County judge will go to Frankfort on Tuesday to tell state lawmakers they should overhaul Kentucky's "outdated" child-support guidelines.

Legislation, scheduled for a hearing before the House Judiciary Committee, is aimed at updating the guidelines, which reflect child-rearing costs in the 1980s.

Fayette Family Court Judge Lucinda Masterton said that when parents ask her what specific data the state uses for its child-support guideline tables, "I have to sheepishly say, 'They are based on data from 1987 about what it took to raise children.' It makes the whole system look like we are outdated, that we are a dinosaur."

Masterton, chair of the state Child Support Guidelines Review Commission, is a vocal proponent of two similar bills introduced this month in the state House and Senate.

"People do make different decisions about what they spend, how much they spend on their children and how they spend it than they did in 1987," she said.

As an example of the differences, said University of Kentucky economics professor Ken Troske, "In the mid-1980s most parents did not buy laptop computers and cellphones for their kids. Now they do."

Troske headed a 2008 study for the state Child Support Guidelines Review Commission that suggested the state adopt a different model based on a more recent analysis of parental spending patterns. The relative prices of goods have changed, he said.

Information from that study is reflected in the proposed legislation, introduced as Senate Bill 87 by Sen. Robin Webb, D-Grayson, and as House Bill 169, by Rep. Mary Lou Marzian, D-Louisville. HB 169 is scheduled to be heard Tuesday.

In addition to electronics, Troske said in an interview, parents might pay for athletic equipment for school sports teams, an expense that previously had been absorbed by the schools.

In Kentucky, the state's child-support guideline tables take into account the number of children and the combined monthly parental gross income — the total family income. The guidelines include data on the spending patterns of the average family.

A parent might not necessarily have to pay more child support under the proposed update.

Under one example, if both parents made a combined gross monthly income of $5,000, the amount suggested in the legislation that both parents spend on one child would increase from a total of $676 to $732.

The proposed legislation also would address another problem: Kentucky child-support laws do not account for the increasing number of children who are dividing their time equally or almost equally between their parents.

The proposed legislation says the court may adjust the amount of child support if there is a shared parenting order that grants one parent physical custody of a child for more than 109 days a year.

Lexington attorney Anita Britton said a change was needed to reflect child-sharing patterns. It's rare to see the old model, where children visit with the non-custodial parent only every other weekend. That is especially true when two parents live in the same county or in nearby counties.

No group has gone on record as opposing the legislation.

"I think this issue needs to be updated," House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, said through a spokesman.

Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, has not had an opportunity to review the bills, his spokeswoman, Lourdes Baez-Schrader, said.

Angie Anton, director of the Jefferson County Attorney Child Support Division, said that in setting child-support obligations, there are two competing concerns: whether the custodial parent will receive consistent and reliable payments and whether the non-custodial parent is ordered to pay a fair and reasonable amount.

"Both sides should be assured that the amount is based upon current data on the cost of raising children," said Anton. "I hope that updated guidelines will assure parents that their orders are based on tangible, current data and consequently, lead to increased payments and collections for their children."

Valarie Honeycutt Spears: (859) 231-3409.Twitter: @vhspears.

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