Articles Posted in Child Support

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In my November 16, 2010 blog I briefly mentioned the concept of voluntary impoverishment. Maryland law describes voluntary impoverishment as freely, or an act by choice, to reduce oneself to poverty or deprive oneself of resources with the intention of avoiding child support, John O. v. Jane O. 90 Md. App. 406 (1992). Our case law has further explained voluntary impoverishment as whenever an individual has made the free and conscious choice, not compelled by factors beyond his or her control, to render himself or herself without adequate resources or income, Gordon v. Gordon, 174 Md. App. 583, 923 A.2d 149 (2007). Income is a factor in child support matters, divorce matters involving alimony, and a factor when deciding whether or not to award a party attorney’s fees.

In order to calculate child support in a Maryland child support case both parties’ incomes are needed. Maryland Code Family Law, § 12-201(h) defines income as (1) actual income of a parent, if the parent is employed to full capacity; or (2) potential income of a parent, if the parent is voluntarily impoverished. Before a Judge can impute a party a potential income for the purpose of calculating child support they must find that the party is in fact voluntarily impoverishing themselves. Oftentimes, establishing voluntary impoverishment is not a cut and dry as it may seem. To assist the Court in making a determination if a parent is voluntarily impoverished for purposes of calculating a child support obligation, several factors as to the parent are considered, including, but not limited to: (1) his or her current physical condition; (2) his or her respective level of education; (3) the timing of any change in employment or financial circumstances relative to the divorce proceedings; (4) the relationship of the parties prior to the divorce proceedings; (5) his or her efforts to find and retain employment; (6) his or her efforts to secure retraining if that is needed; (7) whether he or she has ever withheld support; (8) his or her past work history; (9) the area in which the parties live and the status of the job market there; and (10) any other considerations presented by either party. Gordon v. Gordon, 174 Md. App. 583, 923 A.2d 149 (2007); Stull v. Stull, 144 Md. App. 237, 797 A.2d 809 (2002).
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I recently tried a custody matter in the Circuit Court for Baltimore County, in which I represented the father of the minor child. The father came to our office in January 2010, after he had arranged for his minor child to reside with him upon learning that the child’s mother was not properly caring for him. The minor child had resided with his mother for nine years, but she had recently changed residences, which our client had great concerns about. Prior to January 2010, our client, who resides in a neighboring state, was visiting with the child every other weekend, when the parties were on good terms. After our client made arrangements for his son to live with him, the mother filed a Complaint for an Emergency Hearing, which was scheduled for March 2010 at the Circuit Court for Baltimore County. Due to a heavy docket we were sent to mediation and a hearing was not held. We were able to negotiate a temporary schedule which granted our client temporary sole physical and legal custody and allowed the mother visitation with the minor child.

The case was then set in for a final custody hearing, which was held in November 2010. At the final hearing, both parties were seeking sole legal and physical custody of the minor child. However, after evidence was presented regarding the parties respective living situations, stability, fitness, ability to maintain relationships for the minor child, and economic status, among other factors, the Judge awarded our client sole legal and physical custody of the minor child with visitation to the mother of the child. The factors that were considered are in line with those named in our October 23, 2009 blog, which details factors considered in custody disputes.
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It is not uncommon for clients involved in child support modification cases to ask if their news spouses’ income will be considered in the new child support calculation. For instance, Mr. and Mrs. Smith (first wife) were divorced in 2000 and at that time Mr. Smith was ordered to pay $300 per month in child support. Since that time, Mr. Smith has remarried to Mrs. Smith (second wife) and has also started a job making significantly more money, so Mrs. Smith (first wife) files a Complaint for modification of child support. Does Mrs. Smith’s (second wife) income count as part of Mr. Smith’s income for the purpose or recalculating the child support? The answer should be no. As Moore v. Tseronis, 106 Md. App. 275, 284-85, 664 A.2d 427, 431-32 (Md. Ct. Spec. App. 1995) reports the court should not impute a new spouse’s income to the parent involved in the child support case when calculating child support. Further, the Annotated Code of Maryland, Family Law § 12-201(b) defines income as actual or potential income of a parent, not the parent’s new spouses income. This applies not only in modification cases, but also initial child support calculation cases. For basic information on child support calculations visit our September 9, 2009 blog.
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The Maryland Daily Record reported on June 28, 2010 that 81% of divorce attorneys have used Facebook as a form of evidence. It is a growing phenomenon in the family law practice and it has occurred in our practice in divorce hearings, custody hearings, and protective order hearings. The statements on a spouse or parent’s Facebook page may be just enough, and appears to have been just enough, to push the Judge in one direction or another in a case. Most Judges may not be aware of the context of a picture or statement on Facebook and with blurry evidentiary rules regarding their admission a picture that is funny to you may appear disturbing to a Judge.

Many may question why a Facebook page would be relevant in a divorce, custody or protective order matter. As explained in our February 28, 2010 blog, a fault based divorce such as adultery requires proof of both the opportunity and disposition for the adulterous relationship to be proven. A Facebook page displaying pictures or words of affection may be the key to proving the disposition element needed for adultery. As explained in our October 23, 2009 blog, in custody proceedings a significant factor that is considered is parental fitness. A Facebook page displaying irresponsible habits of a parent may question the fitness of that parent in caring for their child. As explained in our August 16, 2009 blog, the alleged abuse that is needed to enter a protective order can consist of a threat of serious imminent bodily harm. Such a threat on a Facebook page may be enough for a Judge to enter a protective order.
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The pending bill to update the Maryland Child Support Guidelines passed in the Maryland House of Representatives this past Saturday, March 27, 2010 with a vote of 114 in favor and 25 votes against. However, the House did make a few changes to the bill, which will have to be reviewed. The House changed the date the Guidelines would go into effect from October 1, 2010 to October 1, 2011. Also, the House revised the Guidelines to cap at a combined monthly income of $15,000.00 rather than $30,000.00. Currently, the Guidelines are capped at a combined monthly income of $10,000.00. Last, the House amended the bill to state that the new legislation would not qualify as a material change in circumstances for the purpose of requesting modification of child support.
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The Maryland Legislature is currently considering legislation that would update the Maryland Child Support Guidelines . The legislation has passed in the Senate, but has not yet passed in the House. Many proponents of the legislation feel it is long overdue as the Maryland Child Support Guidelines have not been updated in over 20 years, since 1988 when Maryland first implemented the guidelines to comply with the federal government’s recommendation. At that time, the government also recommended that the guidelines be revisited very four years which has not been done in Maryland. The Maryland guidelines calculate the payment by using a pre-established figure to represent the expenses in the household that covers the child or children and then dividing this figure based upon the parties’ respective income percentages, see Maryland Annotated Code, Family Law 12-204 . Currently the guidelines are calculated based on the proportion of expenses for children based on expenses and the cost of living in 1988. These expenses have not increased in perfect proportion to parents incomes over the years, which is one of many reasons why proponents seek to have these guidelines re-evaluated. Additionally, the guidelines do not calculate for those with combined household incomes over $10,000 a month, which encompasses many more households than it did in 1988. The new legislation would change the guidelines to include higher income situations up to $30,000 a month.
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The Maryland Court of Appeal issued an opinion in Curtis O. Rosemann v. Salsbury, Clements, Bekman, Marder & Adkins, LLC on January 13, 2010 stating that funds received as a part of a settlement in personal injury case are exempt from being executed for a judgment of child support arrearages. Mr. Rosemann, the father and primary custodial parent of two minor children sought to garnish funds received from his ex-wife in a personal injury lawsuit after she failed to pay her child support. Mr. Rosemann’s battle began in 2001 when he obtained two judgments in the Circuit Court for Howard County against his ex-wife for child support arrearages totaling over $33,000.00. Ms. Rosemann and her attorneys were awarded $30,000.00 from America West Airlines in a personal injury lawsuit after being injured while on an America West flight. After learning of this settlement, Mr. Rosemann attempted to garnish the account that held Ms. Rosemann’s share of the settlement.

The Circuit Court found, and the Court of Special Appeals affirmed that the funds were exempt from execution on judgment in accordance with Maryland Code, Courts and Judicial Proceedings § 11-504(b)(2), which states the following: (b) The following items are exempt from execution on a judgment: (2) Money payable in the event of sickness, accident, injury, or death of any person, including compensation for loss of future earnings. This exemption includes but is not limited to money payable on account of judgments, arbitrations, compromises, insurance, benefits, compensation, and relief. Disability income benefits are not exempt if the judgment is for necessities contracted for after the disability is incurred.
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A common inquiry for Maryland divorce lawyers is how child support is calculated with questions such as, is it based on the custody arrangement, the amount of income of the parties, are the parent’s expenses taken into consideration, and what about expenses associated with the child? The answer, for the most part is all of the above, with the exception of the parent’s expenses, which are generally not taken into consideration unless it is an above the child support guidelines case. The Maryland legislature has enacted guidelines which provide a standard formula for calculating child support. The Maryland Code, Family Law § 12-204 provides that child support shall be calculated based on the parties combined adjusted actual income combined with the number of children the parties share. Not only do the guidelines take into account the parties’ gross income (not net income), but also any health insurance costs the parties are paying for the child or the children, costs of work-related child care either party may be paying for the child or the children, extraordinary medical expenses paid for the child or the children, and existing prior child support obligations.
The guidelines are also based on the custody arrangement the parties have with the child or children. At the present time, if the mother or father has sole physical custody (less than 128 nights with non-custodial parent) than the Maryland child support guidelines will provide for more support for that parent. If the mother and father share physical custody of the child or children (child spends more than 128 nights with each parent) the child support guidelines will provide for less child support to the party seeking it. If one of the parties to the case is unemployed or earning less than their potential(not due to disability, illness or a child under the age of two belonging to the parties) the court may find them to be voluntary impoverishing themselves, and may determine child support based on their potential income. If the parties combined adjusted actual income is over $10,000 a month, the Court has the ability to award child support based on need. The statutory child support guidelines cease providing a sum for support above and beyond a combined monthly income of $10,000.00. However, courts often extrapolate the child support guideline past the $10,000.00 figure and base an award on that number or at the very least take the extrapolated child support guideline into consideration.
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With the economic downturn, more and more clients are filing for modification of their child support obligation, in an attempt to decrease the amount they owe every month. In fact, according to the Associated Press The Maryland Child Support Enforcement Administration has seen an 18 percent increase over the last year in requests for child support modifications.

In accordance with Section 12-104 of the Family Law Article, Annotated Code of Maryland, “the court may modify a child support award subsequent to the filing of a motion for modification and upon a showing of a material change of circumstances.” Courts have held that an involuntary loss of employment is a material change in circumstances. However, it is up to the parent who is seeking to reduce their payment to file for a modification, and child support is not decreased until an order is in place (not simply because a Motion was filed). Many clients who are paying child support and suffer loss of a job, incarceration or a decrease in income do not file a motion to modify their child support with the court, because they may not be aware of this option or they wait to file and end up with a huge arrearage situation (past due child support). If child support is in fact modified, the Court may only make the new amount retroactive to the date of the filing, not back to the date of the loss of employment, incarceration or decreased income. If a modification of child support is the best course of action, it is important to move quickly to maximize the potential benefit.
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