The Independent

Is Minnesota child support unconstitutional?

Publishing date: 10-06-2002 11:00 PM
Robb Leer Eyewitness News

Happy Days showed us the perfect family. Mom, dad and two happy kids. That show hit the airwaves 20 years ago. A lot has changed.. But if your family isn't like the Cunninghams, one thing has stayed the same. Minnesota's child support

Bob Wenck's son visits regularly and he's happy to pay his fair share for child support.

But Wenck questions what's fair about the old method Minnesota uses to do the math.

"I accept my responsibility of caring for my son. What I don't think I should do though is uh, be financially punished for that"

Punished, because the state only factors in -his- income in the child support equation.

"All they look at is the non custodial income when it comes to the award, so the custodial parent could be making a million dollars. They don't care."
Wenck's case, like many families, the custodial parent is the mother. The non-custodial parent is the dad.

That means the child lives with mom and visits dad. Minnesota takes a percentage of the non-custodial parents income each month and gives it to the custodial parent. The custodial parent's income is not part of the equation -at all-. Even though 79 percent of Minnesota mothers now work.

Wayland Campbell, the director of Child Support Enforcement says it doesn't represent today at all. Even the agency that collects the child support admits Minnesota's system, like an old tv re-run is out of date. "This model really is not consistent with how families earn income".

Wenck makes nearly 70 thousand dollars a year. The court ordered him to pay a thousand dollars a month in child support. That's nearly the entire amount the federal government estimates a family making his salary spends to raise a child. He fought back with help from an economist who says these are beginning to be very exciting times.Mark Rogers is a single dad and an economist. He travels around the country urging states like Minnesota to modernize guidelines.

He says the guidelines were designed for welfare cases and applying them to everyone makes them unconstitutional.

"There is an equal duty of support between both parents in proportion to their incomes."

His argument convinced one judge in Georgia who ruled -that- state's guidelines are unconstitutional.

Georgia, like Minnesota, uses a fixed percentage formula for just one parent.

Bob Wenck says that's not fair. "I'm not left with the discretionary spending that I should have as a parent, to spend on my child when my child is with me."

Wenck was able to get his monthly payment reduced.

His argument to the court included Rogers formula which considers both parents income.

37 states have adopted some version of the shared responsibility approach. Minnesota is one of just 13 states sticking to the fixed percentage.

Wayland Campbell relayed the problems. "It's just difficult to change because there's so many different interests."

But many argue no change will mean children of divorce continue to be a financial prize. Dads like Wenck say it's time for Minnesota to adopt a shared responsibility plan that counts both parents income.

A change that may eventually lead more families to Happy Days.

I'm Robb Leer Eyewitness News.

©2002 Hubbard Broadcasting Inc.