The Salt Lake Tribune

Lawmakers Preparing to Tweak Custody Bills

Thursday, November 21, 2002

Before they approve a package of draft legislation aimed at equalizing the roles of divorced parents, lawmakers want to tweak the bills.

Rep. Eric Hutchings, R-Kearns, pulled his bill -- which would prorate child support payments when the child is with a noncustodial parent -- from the State Judiciary Interim Committee agenda Wednesday to give him more time to work on it.

And Sen. Ed Allen, D-Ogden, referred his legislation, a bill that would establish a "Parent-Time Assistance Office" to enforce visitation, to the Utah State Bar's Child and Family Law Committee for review. Allen points out that the state spends $42 million a year to collect child support, but just $120,000 to guarantee divorced parents see their kids.

"There clearly is a need for balance," he said. The measure passed both houses during the 2002 legislative session, but stalled over a lack of funding. Allen acknowledges the bill needs more work.

But members of the State Judiciary Interim Committee OK'd a measure proposed by Rep. Mike Thompson, R-Orem. His bill would give both divorcing parents "substantially equal access" until a judge determined a permanent custody arrangement.

Divorced parents complain current state law gives preference to the parent who files for divorce first.

"The court system makes it so the first one to court is the custodial parent," said Rick Curtis, a member of FOCUS, an advocacy group for noncustodial parents. "One parent is always going to be in control of the system."

But attorney Lori Nelson argued against the 50/50 split. "Every divorce will now be a custody case," she said. "More people are going to fight about this."

Even Thompson's bill may get more scrutiny before lawmakers consider it in January. Committee members did not unanimously approve the measure, which means it could be changed by a standing committee.

-- Rebecca Walsh

© Copyright 2002, The Salt Lake Tribune