March 3, 2010

Child support hike contested in Senate

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By Nick DiMarco
Nick@MarylandReporter.com

An effort to raise child support payments for the first time in more than two decades met with intense debate in the Senate Tuesday.

The bill would provide a modern scale for calculating child support payments based on parents’ combined income, according to Senate Judicial Proceedings Chairman Brian Frosh, D-Montgomery. Sen. Bobby Zirkin, D-Baltimore county, said the bill’s effects were unclear, and asked for more information about how it would affect parents.

Maryland’s schedule for child support payments has not been changed since 1989. But the law was reviewed, as required by federal regulations, at least once every four years with the exception of 1992.

“The update is necessary,” said Frosh, who sponsored the bill and got it through his committee. “It varies depending on where you are on the income scale. If you’re at the lower end it’s actually a decrease. If you are at $25,000 a month in [combined] income, there were no guidelines previously.”

Zirkin said he thought the bill needed to be clearer about what it is trying to acheive.

“This is just a bill with a bunch of numbers on it,” he said. “That’s a dramatic change in the law. It’s just hard to tell that. Usually you don’t have a bill that has a table of numbers but that’s all we’re getting on the floor here. Those numbers mean a lot to a lot of people.”

Both senators took turns defending their arguments, at times nearly cutting off the other mid-speech.

The bill would give judges a scale for “reasonable payments,” based on combined spousal income of up to $30,000 per month. The existing scale only suggests parameters up to $10,000, which puts a lower cap on payments. The change is intended to reflect the higher costs of raising children.

“The cost of living, the cost of things that go into child support have risen way more as a percentage matter than have the child support guidelines,” Frosh said in defense of his bill.

After more than 20 minutes of debate, at Zirkin’s request, further discussion on the bill was put off until Thursday. An identical bill is awaiting hearing in the House.