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February 3, 1996
From Correspondent Jennifer Auther

LOS ANGELES (CNN) -- When children are involved, the messiest part of divorce involves custody, support, and visitation. But another element can add even more stress: the second wife.

Many second wives are concerned that the money going to the first family puts an unfair strain on the man's new family. In California, second wives have organized. They've lobbied lawmakers and changed some laws, all on behalf of their husbands. "The anger is not directed at the boys or his ex-wife. If there is any anger, it's directed at the laws and the legislature," said Irene Villalpandos, who is a second wife.

If there is any anger, it's directed at the laws and the legislature" -- Irene Villalpandos

The largest father's rights group in California is called "The Coalition of Parent Support," or COPS. "Why isn't a mother scrutinized for her earning capacity?" a COP member asked.

They are angered by the idea that some first wives opt to remain in the home, living on alimony and child support. "I'll be forced into bankruptcy," a husband said.

Two years ago the group helped pass a bill that made it illegal to consider a second wife's income when calculating support.

But commissioners who allocate such things see abuses on both sides.

"It's certainly true that there are mothers who use child support for inappropriate things; it's certainly true there are fathers who try and get time share and have second families just to avoid paying their child support," said Superior Court Commissioner Robert Schnider.

Although second wives say that they acknowledge a husband's obligation to his kids, they recently supported a bill in California designed to cut child support payments by as much as 25 percent.

It's a frightening idea to many first wives. "It would mean devastation. It really would. Right now, I'm making ends meet. I don't have money for any extras, any frills," said divorced single mother Catie Rodgers.

California lawmaker Sheila Kuehl, who helped defeat the bill to cut child support, takes issue with COPS members.

"They're whining about how terrible it is, but when you look at the numbers, the money is still staying primarily with the non-custodial parent," Kuehl said.

Members of the National Organization for Women say that the effort is complicating the war on deadbeat parents. "I believe that COPS and its members are motivated by a desire to reduce their financial obligation to their children," said NOW's Elizabeth Toledo.

But second wife Irene Villalpando said she's motivated by the fact that she and her husband live in a one-room studio to make child support payments. The place is too small to have her husband's two boys spend the night.

And second-wife-to-be Ramona Alvarez said she's motivated by the need to move her life forward. "We've come to the conclusion that it's time to get married and start a life and have our own kids," Alvarez said.

The second wives say that all they want is as much as the first wife once had.

Copyright 1996 Cable News Network, Inc. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

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