RICHMOND, FEB. 16 -- While pushing off until next year the hard questions surrounding child day care regulation, both houses of the General Assembly approved bills today to tighten Virginia's child support enforcement efforts.
On the last day for action by each house on its own measures, the Senate passed child support enforcement legislation, proposed by Gov. Gerald L. Baliles' administration, to have support payments deducted automatically from a parent's paycheck in future Virginia divorce cases, to make it more difficult to escape payment. Enforcement officials also would gain more access to parents' financial records.
To help establish paternity in child support cases, both houses approved legislation lowering the standard of evidence from "beyond a reasonable doubt" to "clear and convincing evidence." Both houses also have passed measures allowing courts to determine paternity and award support when a named father fails to show up for the court hearing.
Boys aged 15 through 17 could be held responsible for supporting children they father, mainly with an eye toward future support, under a measure approved by the House 66 to 30.
"Now if the teen father is under 18, just nothing happens," said the bill's sponsor, Del. Joan H. Munford (D-Blacksburg).
The Senate also adopted, by 23 to 17, a bill allowing judges to award joint custody of children, a measure aimed at giving fathers more say in the upbringing of children who traditionally have been put in the custody of their mothers. In awarding custody, the judge would have to consider which parent would foster a good relationship between the other parent and the child.
Its sponsor, Sen. Thomas J. Michie Jr. (D-Charlottesville), said such changes would give a "psychological boost" to fathers, while opponents warned that joint custody is doomed to failure.
Sen. Moody E. Stallings Jr. (D-Virginia Beach), a lawyer who said 90 percent of his practice is divorce, warned that divorcing couples "who can't agree on dividing up the pots and pans" will find it impossible to agree on such matters as a child's curfew.
On the larger issue of child day care regulation, the House adopted a study resolution that sets up the issue for consideration in the General Assembly next year. The resolution directs the state Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission to analyze whether all child care providers should be regulated.
Meanwhile, the Senate moved slightly in the other direction, allowing unregulated providers in certain rural counties to care for up to 10 children on school holidays, snow days and in the summer.
Staff writer Donald P. Baker contributed to this report.