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N.H. Odd Couples: Mary Stuart Gile and David Bickford

I have served in the New Hampshire Legislature for 17 years, eight consecutive terms, and have sponsored and cosponsored many bills with colleagues from “across the aisle.”

My most surprising and personally beneficial experience began in 1999 when I was appointed to the Children and Family Law Committee and served with Rep. David Bickford, a Republican from New Durham. I had heard that he was a fathers’ rights advocate and anti-woman and anti-child. His bills, with few exceptions, seem to confirm the rumors. They all focused on changing New Hampshire child support laws to reduce a divorced or legally separated father’s financial obligation to his children. I found it difficult to understand or tolerate his motives, his testimony and the various friends he recruited to testify in support of his bills. I was, however impressed with the depth of his research.

Fast forward to 2007. Bickford and I were still serving on the Children and Family Law Committee. I was chairwoman. The committee was informed that the federal government required a review of New Hampshire’s child support laws. A state contract was issued to a University of New Hampshire team of professors, an economist and two specialists in family studies.

The UNH report included six recommendations, one of which was to research the Income Shares Child Support Model used in 35 states as a possible alternative to the New Hampshire model. It was considered fairer and more consistent with New Hampshire’s original goals. I appointed a study committee and recruited Bickford among others, to investigate. Following multiple meetings poring over charts and tables from Connecticut, Vermont and other states, consulting with folks from the Department of Health and Human Services, UNH as well as obligees and obligors, and engaging in energetic and occasionally, heated discussions, in 2008 the Income Shares Child Support Bill was proposed. It passed in 2010 and is currently in the process of implementation.

Today, Bickford and I are good friends. All the early rumors about him were false. He is a Republican who genuinely shares and respects my deep concerns especially about the effects of divorce on young children. And I have learned, based on our many discussions that New Hampshire child support laws really needed to be changed.

(State Rep. Mary Stuart Gile is a Democrat from Concord.)

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