Alimony, audits and adoption: family issues heard during Utah interim meetings

During last week’s interim day meetings, the legislature heard three family issues.

The Judiciary Interim Committee listened to testimony about reforming alimony (brought to the Committee by Representative Fred Cox, R-West Valley City) which has been a Sutherland Institute priority. The proposal would allow courts to consider whether one spouse broke up a marriage in determining an award of support from one spouse to the other. This is a matter of basic justice: a person who did nothing to break up a marriage should not have to pay the spouse who did; a spouse should also not be put into a bad financial position by a spouse who destroys a marriage. The committee seemed open to the commonsense principle the reform would advance. Sutherland will continue working on this issue.

The same committee also heard testimony about an audit of the State’s Department of Child and Family Services. Representative LaVar Christensen, R-Draper, brought this matter to the committee’s attention. All of the legislators who spoke and the state agencies expressed a desire to ensure the best interests of children are met in the work of state agencies by protecting the fundamental constitutional right of fit parents to raise their children without unnecessary interference. The committee appointed a working group to formulate questions that will ensure the direction of child welfare work in the state is consistent with children’s interests and constitutional principles.

The Health and Human Services Interim Committee dealt with an effort to change Utah’s adoption-friendly public policy. The State has had a longstanding policy that when a man impregnates a woman without first marrying her he must act decisively and quickly to show real commitment to take responsibility for the child or he cannot prevent the mother from allowing adoption of the child. The law specifically notes that a man who has a sexual relationship is aware that a child may result. In the last legislative session, the House Health and Human Services Committee rejected attempts to create additional hurdles for an unwed mother who wants to allow her child to be adopted because she is not in a position to raise the child at that time. The issue, unfortunately, reemerged yesterday. Even more unfortunate is that yesterday’s hearing only included highly-colored testimony on one side of the issue, despite a number of members of public at the hearing who had experience that would have helped the committee see the other side of the question, including adoptive parents, birth mothers, attorneys who work on adoptions and employees of adoption agencies.