Facebook Twitter

PROPOSALS TARGET FAMILY RELATIONSHIPS

SHARE PROPOSALS TARGET FAMILY RELATIONSHIPS

Unmarried fathers have to pay child support but have no recognized legal right to visitation. That's an inequity that one lawmaker hopes legislators will change.

HB55, sponsored by Rep. Nora Stephens, R-Sunset, is one of several bills that would change laws surrounding marriage, divorce and child custody. Other bills affecting family relationships include one to require education about domestic violence before a couple can marry.The single fathers would have the right to a regular visitation schedule, except in cases where the child has been placed for adoption under HB55.

Several bills are sponsored by Rep. J. Brent Haymond, R-Springville, or Sen. Delpha Baird, R-Salt Lake. They served as co-chairmen of a divorce and child-custody task force, which generated the legislation.

Haymond's HB83 codifies alimony case law. It lets judges try to equalize standards of living among divorcing couples. Under it, judges would determine at the time of divorce whether alimony would be ordered, although the amount could be modified later. Alimony payments could not last longer than the marriage did.

Alimony amounts could not be changed to meet needs that did not exist at the time of the divorce. For instance, Haymond said, alimony could not be increased because one party "won a lottery." And alimony would stop if the party receiving it remarried or was cohabiting "with sexual relations."

HB81, also a Haymond bill, provides enforcement of visitation orders. The court can include "a provision authorizing any peace officer to enforce" court-ordered visitations. If a noncustodial parent is denied his legal visitation, he or she can take a police officer along.

Haymond is also sponsoring legislation to set up four "quick court" locations. People would be able to use special kiosks (costing about $150,000 in all) to generate legal documents without an attorney in uncontested divorces, enforcement of orders such as child visitation, custody and property division and landlord-tenant actions.

The computer would also provide information about the procedures of district and small claims courts, landlord and tenant rights and responsibilities, alternative dispute resolution, child-support court-judgment collection and how to resolve minor disputes without going to court.

Preparing the documents would cost $10.

Baird is carrying SB50 and SB51. The former requires divorcing couples to attend a two-hour education course designed to sensitize them to their children's needs during and after divorce. They could attend the classes separately.

Last year, lawmakers launched the course as a pilot project. This makes it statewide. Three-fourths of the couples in the pilot were angry about having to take the class, Baird said. By the end of the course, 95 percent said it was helpful.

The couples pay for the class themselves ($27 each).

HB51 expands a divorce mediation pilot project in Utah County to include Salt Lake, Summit and Tooele counties. The class would be required before a custody case could be taken to court, at a cost of $100 for each parent.

Baird said it isn't known why the pilot was successful, but it reduced the number of custody cases that had to go to court to be decided.

Other Baird "family bills" include SB9, banning marriage by anyone younger than 16, and one that allows judges to "emancipate" 16- and 17-year-olds in certain cases. Both of those will be discussed Monday by the Senate Judiciary Committee.

HB36, by Rep. Sara O. Eubank, D-Salt Lake, is designed to "raise consciousness" about domestic violence by requiring educational materials for people who apply for a wedding license. They would also have to sign a statement agreeing that spouse abuse is wrong.

Eubank said she's under no illusion that signing a statement will prevent abuse. "It's just one tiny little thing we can do to acknowledge it's not socially acceptable to abuse your spouse. We have to start somewhere."

She said Utah statistics show almost 58,000 reported assaults every year by an intimate partner. The problem "is reaching epidemic proportions. Our goal here is simply . . . to get people to think."

The Legislature will probably be asked to consider a bill that would suspend business and driver's licenses for people who don't comply with their child-support orders. And Baird said a new child support bill will be introduced to equalize support and "look into a family's actual situation." Overall, it would increase child support payments.