ST. PAUL (AP) -- New rules for Minnesota's child support system are gaining ground at the Legislature.
A House committee approved a bill Wednesday that would cause a major shake-up for the system, which sets payments for more than 260,000 children.
The formula for determining child support would be revamped with courts considering the income of both parents when awarding payment. Currently, only the income of the parent without custody is considered.
The custodial parent also could be required to make monthly reports on how he or she spends the child support payment.
The bill's chief author, Rep. Steve Smith, R-Mound, said it is designed to improve child support collections. It is based in part on recommendations made by the state Department of Human Services two years ago.
Some of the bill's other major changes include:
* Reducing the amount of child support that low-income parents must pay.
* Basing child support on gross rather than net earnings, in order to prevent noncustodial parents from exempting portions of their income.
* Allowing judges to reduce child support if the child spends between 33 percent and 45 percent of his or her overnights with the noncustodial parent.
* Setting new support standards in joint-custody arrangements.
Some child support payments would go up and some down under the new formula, said Wayland Campbell, who oversees the state Human Services Department's child support division.
The new guidelines were designed to be more equitable to both parents. But Bob Carrillo, representing R-Kids, a fathers' rights group, said they amounted to little more than "slapping a new paint job on a rusted old Chevy."
A family law attorney opposed any documentation of child support spending. And a mother worried about how it would affect her payments.
"Now that I'm finishing college and will get a job, does that mean my ex-husband can take me to court and get a lower payment?" asked Cheryl Johnson, a mother from Maplewood.
"Even when I get a new job I probably won't be able to work full time, because I need to be available to my daughter when she's sick or needs child care after school."
A Senate version of the bill, approved by a committee on Tuesday, was stripped of the provision that would allow courts to order some parents to document their expenses.
The House bill now moves to the House Civil Law Committee. The Senate version was rolled into the omnibus family law bill, which will be heard in the Judiciary Committee in early April.
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