Legislature(2011 - 2012)BELTZ 105 (TSBldg)
04/04/2012 01:30 PM JUDICIARY
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* first hearing in first committee of referral
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SB 134-CHILD SUPPORT AWARDS 1:38:14 PM CHAIR FRENCH announced the consideration of SB 134, "An Act relating to child support awards; and repealing Rule 90.3, Alaska Rules of Civil Procedure." He relayed that he asked the bar association to solicit input on the bill from family law practitioners so the emails and statements that committee members have received from practitioners came at his instigation. 1:39:16 PM SENATOR COGHILL joined the committee. ALLEN BAILEY, family law attorney representing himself, Anchorage, AK, said his clients tend to be victims of domestic violence and many are in the lower income bracket. He said he did not have a preference about placing Court Rule 90.3 in statute or not. However, it would be a serious loss to adopt an entirely new method. It would have neither the 25-year history with the courts nor the legislative history and commentary that Civil Rule 90.3 has. He said the concerns the sponsor's staff raised in a letter commenting on Civil Rule 90.3 could not occur under current law to child support payors in Alaska. He opined that it should not be the duty of the court or CSSD to adjust reality for abusive people they do not have the financial income to support their irresponsible behaviors. People sometimes undergo financial reversals, but there are ways to deal with that problem under current law. He urged the committee to take time with the bill. 1:45:36 PM RHONDA BUTTERFIELD, family law attorney representing herself, Anchorage, AK, said 20 percent of her caseload is exclusively child support and 86 percent involves child support issues. She expressed concern that the bill would fundamentally change how child support is calculated and upheave 25 years of case law. She suggested that if the Legislature wants to place the child support rule into statute, it should adopt it in full along with the commentary and case law. The system may have weaknesses, but there are more serious issues than changing to an income share model. For example, the unemployed need temporary relief from their child support obligations. She also pointed out that it would be difficult for people to get relief from child support problems when the Legislature is not in session. MS. BUTTERFIELD said she believes that the Department of Revenue understated the number of child support orders that would be subject to modification. After listening to an administrative law judge speak on the topic, she understood that CSSD has 58,000 child support cases, yet their fiscal note says only 20,000 would be eligible for modification. Her experience is that most child support orders involve primary physical custody by one parent so all of those cases would be subject to modification. She suggested the committee go slowly and look carefully before taking action on the bill. She said she would submit additional comments in writing. 1:52:46 PM MICHAEL SHAFFER, family law attorney representing himself, said he represents primarily victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. He echoed the comments of the previous practitioners and described the bill as profoundly flawed. Although the calculation is based on the Washington model, it does not consider the costs directly associated with child rearing. That significant problem will create a tremendous amount of additional litigation between custodial and non-custodial parents. It will make things worse for the custodial parent in primary custody situations as the income disparity increases. This is often the mother. Although Court Rule 90.3 is not perfect, the court acts like a regulatory agency with a rule change process and it has the most expertise in child custody and child support. MR. SHAFFER opined that every parent who thinks they can reassess their support payment through the new method will apply. His experience is that very few obligor parents pay voluntarily; more often, it is through mandatory garnishments. The bill will have an overall harmful impact to children, particularly those in the care of a low-income custodial parent. It will secondarily be harmful to custodial parents and will benefit non-custodial parents who want to pay less in child support. That is not and should not be the purpose of the law. He urged the committee to move cautiously and solicit input from experts and practitioners in the field before changing the calculation method. 1:59:49 PM CHAIR FRENCH noted that Mr. Shaffer was careful to clarify that he was representing himself, not his employer. DOROTHEA AGUERO, family law attorney representing herself, Anchorage, AK, echoed the comments of the previous testifiers. She said a number of practitioners articulated concern at the section meeting yesterday that they had not had the opportunity to provide input on the bill. The impetus for the bill appears to have come from constituent complaints about fairness of the current rule and the concerns articulated in Ms. Shockley's letter to Beth Adams from the Alaska Court System. She agreed with the previous testimony about consulting experts and practitioners in the field before making such sweeping changes. MS. AGUERO said many of her former clients will want to modify their child support orders if the definition of shared custody is changed. Considering a parent's expenses may require extensive evidentiary hearings, which will burden the court system and cost clients more in attorney's fees. It also appears that lower income parents will actually pay more under the proposed changes. Another concern is that the bill disregards the commentary in Court Rule 90.3 and will result in the potential loss of 25 years of case law. She urged more deliberate thought and input before making any changes. 2:06:18 PM CHAIR FRENCH closed public testimony. 2:06:29 PM DORTHY SHOCKLEY, staff to Senator Albert Kookesh, sponsor of SB 134, stated that the bill puts Civil Rule 90.3 into statute and changes the formula for calculating child support. She reviewed the sponsor statement and told the committee that she followed the entire rule review process four years ago. The court solicited comments, but made limited changes. The statewide teleconference to comment on the changes received little input. She recalled that just five people commented in the allotted half hour. She found the process disappointing and asked how to change it. An attorney who sat on two of the review committees suggested that putting the rule in statute would give people more voice. Another suggestion was to change to a shared income model. MS. SHOCKLEY directed attention to the updated Legislative Research Report in the packet. Twenty-six states have child support in statute, six states use court rule, and others use a combination. Thirty-seven states use the income share model. Responding to previous questions, she confirmed that the economic table contained in the bill did came from the Washington model. The Department of Labor and Workforce Development (DOLWD) indicated what a table specific to Alaska was not essential because its purpose is to indicate how much a person at various income levels can afford to support a child or children. If the bill passes, nonmonetary considerations and the question of a statute of limitations could be considered. She concluded that the bill addresses the fairness issue and that people do not feel they have a voice. 2:15:18 PM SENATOR COGHILL asked if the percent of income model could be modified since the income share model did not have case history in Alaska. MS. SHOCKLEY said the bill initially did not change the calculation. The decision to change to the income share model was based on what most other states are doing. People that have called the sponsor's office support that change. She acknowledged that the fiscal notes were daunting. 2:18:46 PM CHAIR FRENCH held SB 134 in committee for further consideration.