When Kentucky passed its historic shared parenting law in 2018, child support reform became an even greater need. And thanks to another bipartisan victory in the 2021 legislative session with House Bill 404, changes are coming to the child support system on March 1. Further, the National Parents Organization just rated every state’s child support laws and due to Kentucky’s reforms we received an A-minus.
One of the biggest reforms is the removal of the 1.5 multiplier also known as the “shared parenting penalty multiplier.” Before, child support in shared parenting situations was calculated by combining both parents’ obligations. Then, the combined amount was multiplied by a random number of 1.5 before the smaller parent’s obligation was subtracted from the larger parent’s obligation. The multiplier never made any economic sense and artificially inflated the money parents had to negotiate about. Artificially inflated amounts of money, of course, inflated conflict between parents.
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But Kentucky’s child support law will finally factor in shared parenting. Under the previous law, overnight stays weren’t factored in, and any deviations to the final support figure varied by judge and county. Now the calculation must consider overnight stays, which constitute the caretaking of the child during that stay, not just a place to sleep.
The child support payor will now be given “credit” in a sense for those overnights. Also, since it’s been over 15 years since the child support guidelines have been updated, the guideline amounts have increased somewhat. However, the new law will still require a change of at least 15% in the child support figure before it can be modified.
The next reform is that Kentucky now has a much-needed self-support reserve. A self-support reserve is the minimum income amount required to meet the basic needs of the payor parent before child support can be required from that parent. The reserve will vary depending on the number of children. According to research at the Population Research Center at the University of Texas, almost 70% of the country’s 15 million unpaid child support cases are owed by parents who are making less than $10,000 per year. So, what you often get is a vicious cycle of a parent not being able to afford their child support obligation, putting them deeper and deeper in debt. And if they’re put in jail for nonsupport, they obviously don’t have the ability to work, which compounds the problem even further. Along these same lines, the amount of owed child support which can be considered a felony has increased from $1000 to $5000.
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The court now also has clearer rules about imputing income to either parent if it’s found that they are voluntarily unemployed or underemployed. Many factors can be considered, including personal assets, earning history, education, resident, health, job-seeking record, local job market, etc. Also, the amount of yearly extraordinary medical expenses that are paid by the receiving party has increased from $100 to $250. This means that parents are not fighting over small amounts of medical expenses.
Just like the shared parenting law which polling showed was supported six to one, the popularity of this law and bipartisanship in which it passed cannot be understated.
Living in a time of fierce partisanship, both sides of the aisle in Kentucky saw the desperate need for child support reform for all our families passing this new law 93-0 in the House and 33-0 in the Senate. Furthermore, the bill was sponsored by a Republican man, Ed Massey and a Democrat woman, Angie Hatton. It’s great to see Kentucky lead the way, yet again, when it comes to our children and families.
Matt Hancock is the Chair or Executive Committee for National Parents Organization of Kentucky.