20th Anniversary Of Maryland Child Support Guidelines Portends Update

Efforts to update Maryland’s Child Support Guidelines will be redoubled in the 2010 legislative session. As a Maryland Child Support Attorney and former member of the Maryland House of Delegates who served on the Judiciary Committee when they were enacted, I can attest to the fact that the original guidelines bill was passed with no significant opposition. However…determined efforts to modernize the guidelines in the 2009 legislative session did not fair as well.

The current guidelines are based on a schedule that applies only to combined parental income of up to $10,000 per month.

Some opponents seem to be concerned about raising child support obligations in an economic downturn. Proponents of updating the guidelines contend that current law does not reflect more recent estimates of child rearing costs.The House Judiciary Committee is hoping to hear this Fall from an expert who has studied this issue.

In part, there may be an impact from over 20 years of inflation. For any given income level a greater share of the expenses are non discretionary. This might justify a greater share of income being apportioned to the children of the household.

There can be no dispute about another limitation of the current guidelines. They are based on a schedule in the statute that applies only to combined parental income up to $10,000 per month. In cases involving higher combined incomes, the court typically extrapolates child care expenses and apportions them based on the “Income Shared” methodology. While this may lead to a satisfactory result, it means that child support awards are less predictable in higher income counties such as Howard, Baltimore, Montgomery and Anne Arundel.

My experience in the legislature tells me that pressure will continue to build on members of the House Judiciary and Senate Judicial Proceedings Committees during the 2010 legislative session, scheduled from January to April. Any true reform bill would pass overwhelmingly on the floor of both the House and Senate. Therefore legislative action to update Maryland’s child support guidelines can be expected as they pass their 20th anniversary.

If a new law is enacted, it is likely that the legislature will set an effective date and establish other provisions designed to protect the courts’ dockets from a flood of requests to modify existing orders.