SACRAMENTO — Legislation that would require automatic wage deductions for child support payments and allow most women with children to retain the family home after a divorce was introduced Monday by state Sen. Gary K. Hart (D-Santa Barbara).
Hart cited studies showing that one-fifth of all children live below the poverty line and that in many cases, a divorce is a contributing factor. The legislator introduced two bills to help correct what he asserted was unfair treatment of women and children under California's 16-year-old no-fault divorce laws.
Under no-fault, the court does not fix blame for the marriage breakup and it usually tries to divide the couple's financial assets about equally.
Hart acknowledged that his proposed legislation will be controversial but insisted, "We have a good shot at getting support."
One bill would require judges to order automatic wage deductions to pay child support. Currently, Hart said, 60% to 80% of the parents who are responsible for child support payments--the vast majority of whom are fathers--are not complying.
Automatic wage deductions "will mean that fewer children will be impoverished," the senator said.
A second bill would allow the parent who is granted custody--in most cases the mother--to live in the family home until the child is 18 years old. At that time, the present equity in the home would be divided between the two parents.
In addition, the bill would allow some older women who cannot sufficiently support themselves to indefinitely retain the home after divorce.
Under current divorce laws, the family home is usually sold at the time of divorce, and the equity is split between the husband and wife. As a result, Hart said, "children become the victims of divorce," because they are forced to move from their homes and neighborhoods during an already traumatic period.
Hart said he decided to propose the legislation after reading "The Divorce Revolution," a recently published book by Stanford University professor Lenore J. Weitzman, who studied the impact of no-fault divorces for 10 years. She joined Hart at his press conference.
Weitzman contended that automatic wage assignments "would make a tremendous difference in the quality of life for many children." She said her study showed that children who are most devastated by divorce are those whose standard of living drops to "much lower than that of their fathers," largely because child support payments are not made.
Weitzman said the legislation that would award the family home to older housewives who cannot adequately support themselves is meant for women "for whom we really changed the rules in the middle of the game." Weitzman said such women were encouraged by society to stay in the home and raise a family but upon divorce, are now expected to earn a living.