Sunday, November 13, 2005

Great Minds Thinking Alike

As many of you know we are currently trying to get 39 more signatures for our online Child Support Petition to Hillary Clinton.

We are trying to get New York State to adopt the Colonna vs Colonna child support ruling that changed the way Pennsylvania awarded child support. PA now allows a low income non-custodial parent to get child support from a high income custodial parent in order to even out disparities in household income and make it easier for children to have a similar lifestyle in both households.

Surely we don’t want to see a child living in a home in a nice middle-class neighborhood with one parent and then during parenting time with the other moving into a trailer park? This could be quite confusing to a young mind not to mention demoralizing to the non-custodial parent to see their child maybe not even wanting to visit, due to a huge disparity in living standards.

Anyway I was quite gratified to see that this standard was also being applied in other countries now.

I guess great minds think alike. Thus, we have much to thank Mary Colonna for in her courageous struggle to make custody and child support rulings fairer to everyone.

"Supreme Court of Canada upholds mother's child-custody appeal


OTTAWA (CP) - In a decision lawyers hope will clarify often-murky guidelines, the country's highest court said Thursday that support payments do not necessarily rise or fall in concert with changes to child custody.
In a majority decision, the Supreme Court of Canada upheld an appeal by a mother whose support income was significantly reduced when her ex-husband started seeing more of their child.

The high court awarded the mother $500 a month, down from the original $563 a month but more than the $339 awarded by the Ontario Court of Appeal.

Eight of nine judges said courts must take the financial situations of both parents into account when determining support payments, and courts must recognize that many child-care costs are fixed.

Indeed, the court said the cost of raising children may actually be greater in shared custody than in sole custody.

"They're saying that time, in and of itself, does not mean that child support should be reduced," said Deidre Smith, lawyer for mother Joanne Contino.

"It's an important case because it helps Canadians understand how to interpret the child-support guidelines. This issue has been bedevilling Canadians, judges and lawyers . . . across the country."

The mother had primary custody of her son after she and husband Joseph Contino separated in 1989 and divorced four years later.

The father had access to his boy on alternate weekends and Thursday nights, but his visits increased by four evenings a month to accommodate his ex-wife, who had enrolled in an evening class.

Various courts awarded wildly varying amounts over a five-year legal fight.

In September 2000, Ontario Superior Court reduced Joseph Contino's payments to $50 a month and awarded him court costs of $3,800. The Divisional Court overturned the decision and boosted his payments to $688.

The appeal court set that decision aside and ordered child support payments of $399.61 a month.

The high court essentially said such awards cannot follow a strict formula and must take into account inherent fixed costs such as car and house insurance payments.

"The determination of an equitable division of the costs of support for children in shared custody situations is a difficult matter; it is not amenable to simple solutions," Justice Michel Bastarache wrote.

"Any attempt to apply strict formulae will fail to recognize the reality of various families."

Smith said food and the like are the only things that tend to change with custody arrangements. "And as expensive as it is to feed a teenage boy, it's not the biggest ticket item on any budget."

Justice Morris Fish disagreed with his colleagues, saying child support is an "imprecise" science that should at least ensure the child's standard of living with both parents.

He said the appeal court's $399.61 award fell within the "acceptable range."

The justices did not award costs, and their decision is not retroactive. Four highly anticipated Alberta cases slated to come before them next year will likely clarify retroactivity in such cases.

"Obviously, there has been a lot of difficulty for judges to come to a consensus about how to approach this kind of situation," said Smith.

She said two important principles appear to emerge from the high court decision - ensuring as little change to the child's standard of living as possible and demanding clear evidence from parents of expenses related to custody arrangements before changes to support payments are made."

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