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Provision in child support bill HB933 could trigger costly fights over pennies

Earlier, I wrote about an ill-conceived bill to change Virginia's child support guidelines, both in blogs and in the pages of the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Unfortunately, that bill has now passed the Virginia House of Delegates. But more bad things about the bill have now come to light. A Virginia Beach court mediator says one provision in that child-support bill, HB 933, will result in divorced parents fighting each other over pennies and wasting precious court time.

Right now, the custodial parent pays the first $250 annually in unreimbursed medical and dental expenses, rather than each co-payment and out of-pocket expense being painstakingly divided up between the parents based on each parent's share of their combined income. But this $250 ceiling for custodial parents (also referred to as a $250 floor for non-custodial parents) will be reduced to zero under the bill HB 933, which may result in angry parents fighting each other over as little as $10, in order to try to get their ex jailed for contempt for not paying their share of the $10. (Courts sometimes jail people over ridiculously minor issues, such as when Virginia father Dave Briggman was jailed for paying his child support early. A bill to prevent jailings of parents for paying their child support early died in an 8-to-7 vote in a Senate committee.).

The family-court mediator Diane M. Poljacik, herself a former custodial parent, told me this via email:

The $250.00 ceiling on health, dental and vision costs was PUT in place for a good reason. The court saw too many frivolous Show Cause Motions being filed against the paying parent for not reimbursing the other parent $10.00 or some other ridiculously low figure. The paying parent then faces a criminal matter (the show cause motion) and can either hire an attorney, tried to get a court appointed attorney or waive his right to an attorney. This WILL happen again as it has in the past and this will clog the court system once again for no good reason. The time it takes for a case to be heard in Juvenile and Domestic Court can sometimes be up to 5 or 6 months after filing! This will only drag out the time a case will be heard and it makes no sense. Also, the head of DCSE admitted to the sub committee that he had no idea how the new Affordable Health Care Act is going to affect this and yet they are still going forward with it. Will the paying parent have a right to see the particulars of the Health Insurance of the other parent. and what about reimbursements from the state that one parent gets for the child but is unwilling to divulge to the other parent? This is going to create a mini nightmare.

Ms. Poljacik is the Mediation Coordinator for Norfolk Juvenile and Domestic Court and Virginia Beach General District Court.

So it sounds like this provision could generate lots of motions that waste court time, including more court appearances by angry and disgruntled pro se litigants.

Time-consuming court disputes may also be triggered by this provision due to parents' or their lawyers' mathematical mistakes, misunderstandings, and documentation issues, if this provision becomes law. (Mathematical mistakes are common in court pleadings, as the online magazine Slate noted in discussing the application of mathematical formulas contained in state and federal sentencing guidelines).

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