April 12, 2010

Child support payments boosted as legislators compromise

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By Nick DiMarco
Nick@MarylandReporter.com

The vast majority of child support payments will be allowed to increase for the first time in more than 20 years, after lawmakers resolved differences that threatened to sideline the bill this year.

The House and Senate still must approve a compromise worked out by negotiators from both chambers, but lawmakers expressed confidence that the bill would make it to Gov. Martin O’Malley’s desk.

The bill gives court judges a scale for how much to award in child support, based on the parents’ combined monthly income up to $15,000. The amount is supposed to make sure children have the same amount of money devoted to their care as they would if both parents were together.

Judges are not bound by the scale, but they seldom deviate from the recommended payment.

The original Senate version of the bill met criticism because it took into account income up to $30,000, which would raise payments even higher. Despite the lower income limit, Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee Chairman Brian Frosh, D-Montgomery, said he supports the measure. 

“It’s a compromise. I’d like to go beyond $15,000 a month just so we don’t have to worry about future years, but this is good. It’s a good step forward,” said Frosh. “We need to fix it so the kids can get the kind of support that they need and this bill will do that.”

About 500,000 children around the state depend on child support payments, according to figures cited by senators during debate on the issue.

Another key addition to the bill stipulates that the change in guidelines alone wouldn’t be enough for parents to go back to court to change their payments. Parents would still have to show that their financial circumstances have changed in order to rework child support deals.

Sen. Bobby Zirkin, D-Baltimore County, said he was satisfied with the House changes to the bill. He had been concerned about parents “mobbing the courts” seeking payment increases. He said last week that if the bill came back as it had passed the senate, he would do everything he could to kill it.

“The thing that was most important to me was making sure that you didn’t have hundreds of thousands of people flooding the courts on October 1 because we changed the law. That won’t be the case, frankly, because of what the House of Delegates did. On that basis, I support this bill,” said Zirkin.