A panel of Nevada senators grappled Friday with two bills to change family law in Nevada - one to ensure family members of a divorcing couple can attend divorce hearings, and another to fight paternity fraud.
Assemblyman John Carpenter, R-Elko, asked the Senate Judiciary Committee to pass AB90, which would change rules about who can sit in on a divorce hearing. Under current law, either party in a divorce can ask for a private hearing. Carpenter's bill would allow parents and siblings of the divorcing couple - but not children - to sit in on the proceedings.
Carpenter said that having family members to provide moral support is important at such a difficult time. He was kicked out of his own son's divorce hearing at the request of his former daughter-in-law.
"I think that's wrong," said Carpenter. "The immediate family should be allowed to sit in the courtroom. You're there for moral support and encouragement through something very traumatic."
Either party still could ask a judge to exclude a family member or witness from the court room for "good cause."
The committee also heard testimony on AB117, which would create the misdemeanor crime of "paternity fraud," typically where a man sends a friend or other impostor to take a required DNA test to determine who the father of a child is. Test-evading fathers and their impostor assistants can't be charged under current law, although they can be held in contempt of court.
"We look forward to the day when we can post very visible signs that warn would-be impostors and those who would recruit them that the fraud they intend to commit is not only morally reprehensible but can land them in jail," said Ed Ewert, a Clark County deputy district attorney who works in family law.
Ewert estimated the impostor cases make up only 1 to 2 percent of DNA testing cases. But a man who gets away with it can escape paying tens of thousands of dollars over a child's lifetime, he said.
The crime would carry a penalty of up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine. Ewert suggested lawmakers amend the bill to make the crime a gross misdemeanor, which would double the allowable fines and jail terms.
Judiciary Chairman Mark Amodei, R-Carson City, said the committee might consider even stiffer penalties.
"If you're trying to defraud someone out of $6,000 a year for about 20 years, that would be felony range if I stole it," said Amodei.
No one spoke in opposition to either bill on Friday. The Assembly voted unanimously in favor of both bills last week.