Maryland lags other states in revising child support guidelines

Maryland lags other states in revising child support guidelines

The federal currency printing plant will find a new home in Beltsville. Photo by yomanimus with Flickr Creative Commons License

As the Maryland General Assembly is about to start Wednesday, its website lists 220 prefiled bills in the Senate and 200 prefiled bills in the House. After hitting “Child Support” in the search box, you will see “No data available in table.”

No surprise because the leading child support legislator, Del. Kathleen Dumais, D-Montgomery, was appointed by Gov. Larry Hogan to serve as associate judge of the Montgomery County Circuit Court. Wearing a judicial robe makes her no longer advocate for the changes in the child support laws in front of the House Judiciary Committee. However, a Maryland judge can testify if needed.

The bottom line of this commentary is to tell Maryland obligees (formerly the term of “custodians”) and obligors (once the word of “non-custodians”) that “Due to the current COVID-19 pandemic, the federal Office of Child Support Enforcement has allowed state child support programs to request a waiver to extend the federally required four-year review of the Child Support Guidelines. Maryland has received a two-year extension until December 2022,” according to the Child Support Administration (CSA) of the Maryland Department of Human Services (DHS) in their Aug. 31, 2020, email to me. 

The federally-required four-year review??  In 1990, the Maryland General Assembly passed a law establishing guidelines in all child support cases. Beginning Jan 1, 1993, and at least every four years after that date (the last review completed in 2016), the Child Support Administration must review the child support guidelines every four years to ensure that their application determines appropriate child support amounts. (45 CFR 302.56(e) and MD Family Law §12?202(c)(1).)

Historically, in compliance with federal law to avoid the loss of the federal funds, the DHS submitted to the president of the Senate and the speaker of the House the quadrennial review on Dec. 31 of 1996, 2000, 2004, 2008, 2012 and 2016.

Unfortunately for divorced parents, the Maryland legislature had adapted adjustment to the Maryland Child Support Guidelines upward just once in 32 years. The guidelines were last revised in 2010.

What happened to the 2016 review? The basic child support obligations schedule of the last review of 2016, described in the SB 763 of 2019 (Child Support Guidelines – Revision), was introduced two years, one month, and five days after completing the 2016 quadrennial review. But Chairman Bobby Zirkin of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee stalled it in 2019 along with Dumais’ six other child support bills passed by the House.

The 2020 review? The Child Support Administration got a two-year extension, as mentioned above. The review will likely be sent to the Senate president and Speaker in early 2023.

It could receive cheers from middle-income obligors, who see another year of no increase in paying the child support. At the same time, it would hear groans from low-income obligors, who lost jobs and homes due to COVID, so they have difficulties paying child support on time. However, it could mean that Judge Dumais might see more petitions to modify child support in her first judicial year.

Other states? Most states completed their quadrennial reviews before the pandemic. After receiving a one-year extension (not two-year) from the federal Office of Child Support Enforcement, South Dakota’s Commission on Child Support held its first meeting on Jul. 29 to plan its schedule over the next several months.

The new Massachusetts child support guidelines took effect on Oct. 4. The Alabama Advisory Committee on Child Support Guidelines and Enforcement had a web meeting on Oct. 1. On April 5, the New Mexico governor signed a law that updates the child support guideline table to save the Land of Enchantment from losing $147.5 million in federal funding: $122.6 million for the Temporary Assistance for Low-Income Families (TANF) program and $24.9 million in child support program funding.

Back to Maryland, the Child Support Administration informed me on De.c 16 that “Information about the   quadrennial review committee will also be extended until after the next study is completed for Maryland’s review and analysis.” Did the CSA get a two-year grant from the federal agency?

(The writer has been working to reform Maryland’s child support system since 2004.)

About The Author

Howard Gorrell

Howard Gorrell was the first complainant challenging the constitutionality of the apportion of congressional districts of the State of Maryland for the 2010 decade, based primarily on alleged partisan gerrymandering and insufficient consideration of communities of interest. See Gorrell v. O’Malley, 2012 WL 226919 (D. Md. Jan. 19, 2012)