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Bills before Nixon would deal with paternity, child-support issues PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Roseann Moring   

JEFFERSON CITY -- A bill headed for Gov. Jay Nixon would set up a special court, similar to a drug court, to address child support issues. And another bill would make it easier for men to contest paternity.

The child support bill would give courts the authority to sentence nonviolent parents to probation if they haven’t paid child support, said the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Jeff Smith, D-St. Louis. Existing St. Louis County and city family courts do not have such provisions.

Under the bill, Smith said, the court could send a scofflaw parent through programs such as job training or drug rehabilitation. The bill would also make it a crime to miss 12 child support payments over the course of a lifetime, rather than consecutively.

The bill had only one dissenting vote in the House and none in the Senate.

The other bill would allow judges to consider DNA testing up to two years after an allegation of paternity is made. Under current law, men have two months to contest a paternity claim before they are automatically considered the father. The bill passed unanimously in both chambers.

Smith, who also sponsored the DNA bill, said they were suggested by Halbert Sullivan, chief executive of the Fathers’ Support Center in St. Louis.

Smith said the court bill will "save $1.5 million a year in the short term and millions more in the long term by helping fathers get back on their feet so they can assume responsibility for their child."

The $1.5 million is from an official Senate estimate, which said the state could save up to that much in prison costs.

Smith said the legislation will help a group of people that doesn’t have a lot of economic opportunities. "We’re trying to build a support system based on a tough-love structure," he said.

Sullivan said the bill will help the center with its goals, which include getting "the person that is typically known as the ‘deadbeat dad’" back into his child’s life.

The Fathers’ Support Center provides many services that would be offered by the court, such as GED training and substance abuse programs.

Sullivan said sentencing a man to prison for not paying child support doesn’t get more money for the child. He’s often seen men, he said, who aren’t paying child support because they have an addiction or can’t get a job.

Sullivan envisions the family court to be a last stop for men who are willing to work on their problems.

Rep. Tim Jones, R-Eureka, who sponsored both bills in the House, said the current system is harmful to men and families.

"We’re not only not allowing those people to make up that debt, we’re also destroying any potential familial relationship," he said. Jones, a former prosecutor, said child support cases will always exist.

"Let’s do something different with these people than just running through the system," he said.

Rep. Jeff Grisamore, R-Lee’s Summit, touted Jackson County’s family court, which this plan is modeled after.

Sullivan said the DNA bill is equally important, because it gives men accused of being fathers more leeway.

The bill allows any man to contest paternity until 2011. After that, men have two years from the allegation of paternity to contest it.

Smith said the current system is flawed, in part because many men in his district don’t stay in one place for a long time, and therefore might not receive the notice.

The bill requires more simply written, hand-delivered letters to ensure men get the notice and understand what it means.

The bills are waiting on the governor’s signature.

The court bill is SB140. The DNA bill is SB141

 



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