• New Child Support Law
  • September 24, 2010 | Author: Hadrian N. Hatfield
  • Law Firm: Shulman, Rogers, Gandal, Pordy & Ecker, P.A. - Potomac Office
  • The child support formula used by the courts in Maryland will change effective October 1, 2010.  This is the first revision to the actual formula in the child support law, commonly known as the “guidelines,” since its inception in 1989 (although some changes in other aspects of the law have occurred).  Generally, this revision will increase the amount of support owed when compared with the prior version.  Also, instead of stopping at a combined annual family income of $120,000, this revision extends the guidelines to annual combined family income of $180,000.  Other, less widely applicable, changes also were made.

    The original formula was meant to bring more uniformity and predictability to child support rulings from the Maryland courts, and to reflect more objectively the costs of raising children in Maryland.  Most practitioners would agree that by and large those goals have been met, especially when compared with how child support was awarded before the guidelines.  The revised formula comes more than 20 years after the original law.  It is meant to update the guidelines for inflation in the cost of living, and for current typical income levels in Maryland.

    This revision, naturally, comes with a healthy dose of legal uncertainty and controversy. Many of the concerns voiced by practitioners involve questions about how the revised guidelines work and whether the results are fair.  After all, at their core, the guidelines should be a relatively mechanical application of mathematical inputs to get a predetermined fair result.

    Yet, the prior version certainly left plenty of room for uncertainty and criticism also. Indeed, both versions of the formula stop for combined incomes above a certain level. Both versions require inputs of income and certain expense information.  The proper amount for these inputs can be hotly debated, especially income for the under-employed, self-employed or business owner.  And both versions allow for exceptions, or “departures,” in unusual factual situations.

    As with so many family law issues, every effort to streamline and make more objective their resolution must confront at some point the emotional content of the dispute.  Child support certainly can carry a heavy emotional content.  Among some of the feelings expressed by clients are fear, inadequacy, shame, anger, jealousy, greed, injustice and outrage.

    These feelings often run deep, and can be very different from first blush appearances. One memorable child support matter was resolved only after the combative payor was given a safe place to express his shame and disappointment at being unable to live up to a promise, made to himself, that he would never abandon his children the way he had been abandoned as a child.  How do we put that into a new mathematical formula?

    Obviously, it is impossible - unless sensitive, skilled, and wise people help apply the guidelines in a way that accommodates the clients’ need to resolve the emotional issues, as well as the practical and financial ones.  This is true whether the clients are being helped by a mediator, their private attorneys, the Office of Child Support Enforcement, or a judicial officer.  Maybe the answer is not something so new after all.