Over the past months, state courts and governments throughout the United States have been changing policies and laws that affect single parents. Some involve child care, others involve vaccinations and others focus on child support.
I wanted to share these developments with you in the hopes of alerting and empowering you.
If you have trouble getting to these links, feel free to email me at email@example.com and I’ll send PDFs of them to you.
In California, parents who disagree over whether their child should be vaccinated can’t rely on medical, religious, or philosophical objections to prevent inoculations. The state passed this law earlier this year because of the role immunizations play against diseases, such as polio, mumps and whooping cough, in protecting public health. Not surprisingly, this law is part of the debate over whether single parents with shared or joint custody can object to COVID-19 vaccinations for their child or children simply on the grounds of personal beliefs. If a COVID-19 vaccination dispute goes to court, parents should consider these issues:
- Personal opinions and medical, religious or philosophical objections carry very little, if any, weight in court.
- Evidence for or against a child being vaccinated should be testimony from the child’s medical provider, such as their pediatrician, about their medical history and testimony from medical experts.
- The court may defer to the parent who has historically been most involved in the child’s medical care.
Ultimately, the court will balance the evidence and what is considered in the best interest of the child when making a decision. Any questions? Consult a lawyer.
Murphy Administration Announces Additional Child Care Investments to Support Working Families, Child Care Workers, & Providers
New Jersey plans to invest more than $700 million in child care through a multipronged approach. Reelected Gov. Phil Murphy and the state’s Department of Human Services fleshed out this effort by meeting with families served in the state’s child care assistance program and child care providers through listening sessions and roundtable discussions.
Human Services Acting Commissioner Sarah Adelman had this to say about this initiative:
“As we continue to manage and recover from the challenges of the pandemic, child care continues to be a top priority to strengthening our economy and our workforce. We know that affordable, reliable and quality child care is especially critical for working mothers who have been disproportionately affected by the impacts of the pandemic.”
New Jersey used federal aid from the American Rescue Plan to bolster several programs that benefit working parents, in particular single parents. The benefits in the state’s child care effort include:
- Covering the money working parents may owe child care providers after state aid is exhausted. Additional payments of up to $300 for full-time care and $150 for part-time care are available per eligible child per month. This aid is “on top of the child care assistance rate paid by the state on behalf of the family.” This perk is being extended to December 2023 after it was launched in September 2021.
- Waiving co-payments in the state’s child care subsidy.
- Encouraging child care providers to offer nontraditional evening and weekend hours through financial incentives.
The state plans to spend $1 billion during the Murphy Administration to help working parents with child care needs.
During the pandemic, New Jersey helped offset child care costs for many working parents, including launching a temporary child care program for essential workers and paying full-time rates for school-age children who were learning remotely and in the state’s child care assistance program.
Beginning October 4, 2021, Massachusetts launched new child support guidelines as a result of a task force review required every four years by the federal government. Single parents receiving or negotiating child support for their child or children should discuss the impact of these changes with their attorney. Parents with existing child support orders must agree to update their orders; these new changes will not automatically be made to an existing order. Following are some of the guideline changes:
- The minimum amount of child support to be paid dropped by half to $12 per week in 2021 from $25 per week in 2018. If need be, the court has the authority to “set an appropriate level of support.”
- For working, single parents, child care costs — up to $355 per week per child — are now to be shared in proportion to the parents’ incomes. Previously, a parent paying for child care received a 15 percent credit for that expense.
- Parents with child support orders for more than one child can now expect an incremental increase in support based on the number of children.
- Income now includes “income derived from stock options and similar incentives, excluding any income from the coverture portion allocated at the time of the divorce of the parties subject to a child support order.”
- Income to which these guidelines apply has almost doubled to the maximum combined available annual gross income of the parties of $400,000 per year from the first $250,000 of the combined annual income of the parties in 2018.
A child support guidelines worksheet for parents with an order originating in the state of Massachusetts can be found here as a fillable form.
Beginning in November 2021, single parents who receive federal cash assistance can keep $100 of their child support if their order originates in Mississippi. In last month’s news roundup, I shared an article that described how states have been seizing child support to pay for the welfare they have been giving to single, custodial parents, particularly single mothers. As a result, for years, many single parents and their children never saw a dime of child support. Fortunately, 28 states have been allowing for child support “pass-throughs,” which allow custodial parents on welfare to receive a certain amount of child support before the state steps in for its share. As the 29th state, Mississippi allows custodial parents to receive the first $100 in child support that comes in each month. That $100 will not count as income and not affect the parent’s eligibility for assistance through Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, a federal benefits program.
Florida expands requirement for reporting new hires, independent contractors to Department of Revenue
Some single parents struggling to collect child support are getting relief from Florida. Beginning October 1, 2021, businesses in the Sunshine State must report to state officials all newly hired employees with child support orders, including service providers, also known as independent contractors, who are paid $600 or more in a calendar year. Businesses must take this action within the employee’s first 20 days of employment there. The process can be done online.
As the anti-vax movement has been slowly gaining momentum over the years, even before the emergence of COVID-19, many parents with shared or joint custody have been turning to the courts for direction. Early in the pandemic, a custody dispute between two vax-distinct, divorced parents in Michigan demonstrated that speculation and beliefs cannot override the court’s obligation to put the best interest of the child first. In this case, the mother opposed having their daughter vaccinated and the father supported it.
The mother claimed that a court order requiring her child to be vaccinated would violate her human rights and added that her anti-vax beliefs were rooted in her religion. She introduced a doctor-expert who testified that the child’s family history of lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis and other autoimmune diseases may predispose her to contracting rheumatoid arthritis from the vaccination. However, the expert added that no test exists to determine a person’s predisposition to rheumatoid arthritis or to measure the likelihood that a vaccine will harm a particular person.
The father, on the other hand, shared testimony from a doctor familiar with his daughter’s family history of autoimmune diseases who strongly recommended vaccinations. He introduced another expert, a proponent of vaccinations, who pointed to the increase in whooping cough cases in the state because of waning vaccination rates and the American Academy of Pediatrics’ advocacy of vaccinations. After hearing the evidence, the court decided:
“The risk of harm to the child from exposure to vaccines that could potentially trigger an autoimmune disease is speculative and the record does not show that vaccination would put the child at risk of injury.”
The father eventually won after an appeal and the child was vaccinated. Parents at odds over whether to vaccinate their child or children should consult their child’s or children’s doctor and their lawyer.
On Thursdays, I share a blog about a day in the actual life of a single parent.
Starting the summer of 2021, my son, Joseph, is writing a monthly column titled In My Son’s Words where he describes his experiences as a teenager and as a child of a single parent.
Twice a month, instead of a personal post, I put together one where I assemble news on and about single parents nationally and globally.