Trial court holds hearings on child support guidelines

By Denise Lavoie, Associated Press, 7/16/2001; Fall River Herald News

BOSTON (AP) Just how much should divorced or unmarried parents pay for child support?

Judicial officials are holding hearings this month to find out what the public thinks.

''The trial court is soliciting input from anyone concerned with the issue attorneys, judges, legal services and members of the general public,'' said Bruce Brock, a spokesman for the court.

Judges use the state's child support guidelines to help determine how much money custodial parents should receive to support their children. Under federal law, the Trial Court must review state child support guidelines every four years. The last review was in 1998.

The current guidelines are based largely on the income level of the noncustodial parent and the number of children, although judges do have some discretion to increase or decrease the amount.

The goal of the guidelines is to provide children with the standard of living they would have enjoyed if their family had stayed intact, and to encourage joint parental responsibility, according to court officials.

Under the current guidelines, noncustodial parents must pay between 15 percent and 33 percent of their gross weekly income for child support, depending on the number of children involved. Those percentages increase for older children.

Brock said that during the first two hearings last week in Boston and Brockton more than 80 people attended to discuss the amount of money required to be paid under the guidelines.

''There are some who think the guidelines are too high, some who think they're too low and some who feel they are just about right,'' Brock said.

Mark Charalambous, a spokesman for The Fatherhood Coalition, a Massachusetts advocacy group with about 3,000 members across the state, said his group feels the guidelines are unfairly high.

''The model seems to be that you had a family and then one parent abandoned the family. Therefore, let's take as much money from that person and give it to the other,'' said Charalambous.

''That model does not reflect today's situation, which is that fathers are involved with their children ... and want to maintain the same relationship they had with them before. They want to provide for them and to care for them.''

Additional hearings are scheduled for Tuesday in Worcester, Wednesday in Lawrence and July 24 in Springfield.

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