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A helpful child visitation tool for IV-D agencies.

Any IV-D child support attorney, judge, or child custody expert will tell us that, except in unusual circumstances, during and following a divorce, it is desirable for a child to have a strong relationship with both parents. It follows that the less contentious the divorce the better off are the children, the parents, and the department in charge of child support issues. Indeed, custody and support issues can unravel what might otherwise be an amicable divorce. One of the major problems that may arise after divorce is custodial interference with visitation. Many jurisdictions have held that unreasonable interference with the noncustodial parent' parental rights can even be grounds for a change of custody.

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According to Stewart1 one-third of all children in the United States have a nonresident parent. Child custody is a term that defines the legal relationship between a child and a parent. Generally, there are two types of custody. "Physical custody" determines where the child lives. "Legal custody" describes which parent has the legal right to make important decisions for the child. If one parent does not have physical custody of the child, that parent may still be granted "frequent and meaningful" visitation. Many visitation schedules call for visits every other weekend, a night in the middle of the week, and alternate holidays.

Signed into law in January 1975, the Social Services Amendments of 1974 created Title IV-D of the Social Security Act. The Child Support Enforcement Program is a federal/state/tribal/ local partnership whose purpose is to help families by promoting family self sufficiency and child well-being. The law places primary responsibility for operating the child support enforcement program on states (or other local jurisdictions). Each state must have an approved plan indicating that, among other things, it will cooperate with any other state in locating an absent parent, establishing paternity, and securing support, and will maintain a record of collections and disbursements made under the plan. In most states the IV-D agency is the department of human services or the attorney general's office.

In Oregon, the Oregon Department of Justice, Oregon Child Support Program, has devised a free, on-line, useful tool that helps ensure a smooth custody and support transition (www.oregonchildsupport.gov/calculator/parenting_time/index.shtml). Covering a two-year time period to allow for alternate holiday and vacation scheduling, the "Parenting Time Calculator" is a tool for families and child support professionals to find out the average time a child is spending with each parent and to help create a parenting plan. If there is a provision for parenting time included in your child support order, the result may be applied to how much money each parent should contribute for the care of their child using the "Child Support Guidelines Calculator."

The real advantage of this tool is that once the agreed-upon data are entered, the calculator provides the parents, court, attorneys, and state jurisdiction with the exact number of nights and percentage of time the child has spent with each parent--no more need for estimating or guessing. Printing out the two-year calendar allows everyone to have an accurate record of past and future visits and should mean less money and time spent on lawyers and in court. In addition, this document becomes one piece of clear evidence in determining whether, in fact, a substantial and material change has occurred in circumstances since the divorce and custody decree was entered.

Various program and psychological approaches have been offered to help high-intensity divorcing parents and families.2 IV-D agencies cannot guarantee that custody and visitation agreements will be problem-free. But they can help to prevent the deterioration of a child's relationship with its divorced parents by offering them Oregon's Child Support Guidelines Calculator.

Endnotes

(1.) Stewart, S. ( 2010 ). Children with nonresident parents: Living arrangements, visitation, and child support. Journal of Marriage and Family, 72( 5 ), 1078-1091.

(2.) Lebow, J. & Rekart, K. ( 2007 ). Integrative family therapy for high-conflict divorce with disputes over child custody and visitation. Family Process, 46( 1 ), 79-91.

Daniel Pollack is a professor at Yeshiva University's School of Social Work in New York City and a frequent expert witness in child welfare cases. He can be reached at dpollack@yu.edu.
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Title Annotation:legal notes
Author:Pollack, Daniel
Publication:Policy & Practice
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 1, 2011
Words:701
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