Monday, June 29, 2015

Providing public comment on the proposed amendments for 2016 Indiana Child Support Guidelines

The Domestic Relations Committee [DRC] of the Indiana Judicial Center has completed drafting its initial proposed revisions to the Indiana Child Support Guidelines. On 26 June 2015 the Indiana Supreme Court posted on its webpage information about public input on the proposed revisions. The proposed modified ICSG may be viewed here. Public comment on the modifications proposed by the DRC may be made using this form. Comments may also be delivered in writing through the mail. The public is invited to submit comments for 60 days from the date of publication. The public input will be reviewed by the DRC which may then amend its proposed revisions before submitting them to the supreme court.

In previous years I have reviewed the public comments and listened to the subsequent discussion by the members of the DRC about the public input. Reading them in their entirety usually takes not less than five hours. Through these experiences I have gleaned a few clues as to what makes for an effective comment and which ideas get lost in poor draftsmanship.

Before you begin preparing for submitting your comments I would like for you to read and consider the following guidance I provide on submitting comments.

1] Purpose and statutory requirements. Comments that seek to have the guidelines written in a manner inconsistent with federal and state laws are not going to get any traction. Such things as emancipation age, secondary education support, and health care expenses have underlying statutory provisions to which the guidelines must be consistent. Before gathering your thoughts on what you would like to see in the guidelines first read the Preface to the ICSG so you will be aware of the parameters in which the members of the DRC must work.

2] Formality. Use proper letter format, including punctuation, capitalization and accurate spelling.

3] Personalization. The judicial officers on the DRC are interested in who you are and why you have committed your time and effort to reviewing their work. A brief introduction about yourself is appropriate. Specific case information should not be shared in this venue; your comments are public record. Although it is unlikely one of these judicial officers may be associated with your case, providing case specific information or opinion could be a prohibited ex parte communication.

4] Apply comments broadly. A common refrain heard while the DRC members are discussing issues is, “We can’t make these apply to everyone. They are just guidelines.” Thus, when commenting about specific provisions try to ensure that any recommendation could be applicable to nearly all cases.

5] Copy the language and note the section to which you refer. It will help the DRC members to understand your comments if they can readily associate them to the language in the proposed guidelines.

6] Not changing language in the ICSG is taking an action. It is choosing to maintain the current language. If you feel a change should be made that wasn't then that comment is welcomed and should be made.

Be succinct in your writing and keep in mind that you are appealing to judicial officers to accept and act upon your input. The DRC members have each contributed a significant amount of their time to drafting these proposed revisions. Much of it has been done at home on their time. They have all continually expressed concern that both parents need to support their children and ensure that the children are being supported. They have also acknowledged that some parents use child support payments for themselves rather than the child but realize that such misappropriation of support is a matter for the presiding judge on the particular case. It may be good to acknowledge their efforts and show appreciation.

If you do not wish to submit your input on your own then feel free to send it to me and I will include such in a portion of my input dedicated to what I am hearing from parents.

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