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Lawmakers considering changes in child support

St. Paul, Minn. — (AP) As the Legislature prepares to overhaul Minnesota's child support guidelines for the first time in more than 20 years, parents across the state are watching closely.

A bill moving through the Legislature would base child support payments on the income of both parents, instead of only considering the noncustodial parent's earnings, as current rules provide.

Many parents long have argued that the guidelines are outdated. Fathers - who are most commonly the noncustodial parents - often say the rules don't consider the financial status of the ex-wife, the time kids spend with their fathers or the cost of raising a new family after a divorce.

Custodial mothers often charge that the actual cost of raising children - in money and time - is far greater than current guidelines recognize. Even if the child spends time with the father, custodial parents still must pay for housing, groceries and the children's other basic needs, they argue.

In the middle of the argument sit about 265,000 kids whose lives are affected by the payments - or lack of payments - from their parents.

Sen. Thomas Neuville, R-Northfield, chief author of the Senate bill, said he's trying to find a middle ground.

Bills in the Senate and House bills are based, in general, on recommendations of a 2001 state task force on child-support guidelines. The task force found the current rules don't consider the financial status of the custodial parent, don't consider whether the noncustodial parent is raising another family, and don't necessarily link payments to the actual cost of child-rearing. Low-income men aren't treated consistently, the task force said.

Two new twists have been added to the task-force recommendations in the bills.

One bill would give noncustodial parents a break on their child support if they spent time with their children.

Another newer provision, which is in the House bill sponsored by Rep. Steve Smith, R-Mound, would allow courts to order a parent receiving child support to document how the money is spent if the noncustodial parent suspected it wasn't being used properly. Fathers' rights groups support this, charging that their child-support money underwrites vacations, the ex-wife's clothing budgets and other purchases not related to the kids.

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