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Child-support proposal may change tax perks

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Child-support payments might go up a little, but tax benefits for noncustodial parents could get better under a proposal gaining momentum with the state's Child Support Guideline Advisory Committee.

Members voted unanimously Friday to ask their private consulting firm to chart the ripple effect of giving the tax break to the parent who would get the most actual tax benefit, be it the custodial or noncustodial parent.

"There is a disconnect between the IRS and the state code," said committee co-chairman Stewart Ralphs. "The idea here is to give the exemption to where the greatest tax benefit is and offset that benefit by increasing child support slightly, not just assume that the custodial parent should get the exemption."

In Utah, payment schedules are based on gross incomes, not net incomes, of both parents. And the exemption can be awarded to the noncustodial parent if the custodial parent agrees.

If the current system is changed, the exemption could only be claimed if the noncustodial parent stays current on child-support payments. Along with the benefit of the tax exemption would come the burden of proof that the noncustodial parent is current in child support if that were to be disputed by the custodial parent.

Committee members said no matter what is ultimately decided, each individual case would have to be left up to the court.

Some members said the effort might not be worth the trouble because tax-benefit changes would simply be offset by adjustments in payments.

Noncustodial-parent-rights groups say changing the law makes sense, although they don't like having child-support payment increases of any kind. Support payers often have to take second or third jobs to pay child support and support themselves. The additional income can automatically place them in a higher tax bracket, which in turn reduces their ability to pay.

Ralphs, an attorney, said if the law were changed, he would assume many parents would file petitions to have divorce decrees changed.

E-mail: jthalman@desnews.com