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Missouri Custodial/Noncustodial Organizations Work Together

Two groups join efforts to help improve child support system

By Michele Munz
Of The St. Charles County Post

Groups that are often on the opposite side of the fence
on child-support issues joined forces Tuesday in lobbying for changes in the judicial system.

About 15 members from the local chapters for the
Association for Children for Enforcement of Child Support (ACES), the American Coalition for Fathers and Children (ACFC) and the Children's Rights Council traveled to Jefferson City for Child Advocacy Day.

They met at 7 a.m. Tuesday near Mid Rivers Mall and
followed each other to the offices of state legislators, whose doors were open for the day, to discuss state laws affecting children.

Earlier this month, a member from ACES - made up of
custodial parents having problems receiving child support - attended an ACFC meeting, a noncustodial parents group.

She learned that the two groups shared many common
concerns. She urged Peggy Walker, the coordinator for ACES, to talk to Marty Witbeck, with ACFC.

Walker made a call to Witbeck and ended up talking to him for about an hour and a half. They learned that both their groups were planning to make the trip to Jefferson City, and they thought that they would be more effective if they joined forces.

They agreed to meet Jan. 15, along with Scott Fields,
chairman of the state's Children's Rights Council, at the public library in O'Fallon. They worked for about three hours, hammering out a list of issues for which they wanted to lobby.

"We were talking the same story from two different
perspectives," Witbeck said. "It was interesting to see how much crossover there was."

Walker said before leaving that she expected the groups to get a lot more attention by working together.

"It's going to turn some heads," she said, "because we're normally at odds on how we want the system to change."

The changes the groups discussed at Jefferson City
included:

Open access to court records and databases of judges'  rulings.

Standardized summaries of judges' decisions detailing the responsibilities of both parents. The summaries would be maintained in the case files.

Cameras and recorders allowed in Family Court in order to keep an accurate record of evidence and decisions.

Having all judges elected instead of appointed.

Setting up a lay review board to review complaints about judge's decisions.

Having guardian ad litems (attorneys representing the
children) chosen by a lottery system instead of appointed by a judge.

Changing the title of Section 452 of the Missouri Revised Statutes covering divorce to include the phrase, "Rights of Children," to help remind judges that children need shared parenting in the majority of cases.

"We are still seeing too many judges that are putting a
child in one home or the other, when the child needs to be with both parents more often," Witbeck said.

The ACFC meets the first Monday of each month at the
Prairie Commons library, 915 Utz Road, in Hazelwood. For more information call 963-5252.

ACES meets at 7 p.m. on the second Wednesday of each month at the St. Peters Senior Center, 1008 McMenamy Drive.

The next speaker will be Ella Boone, the new director of
child support enforcement at the St. Charles County prosecuting attorney's office. For more information, call 947-3922.

A representative of the Children's Rights Council could
not be reached. The Missouri chapter may be contacted at 963-4668.

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