Monday, December 6, 2010

Child Support: it's a matter of ethics and a matter of law.

We were recently hired by a mother who needs child support from the father.  The parents were never married so this is not a divorce case.  The parties lived together until she was three months along, then he decided he really didn't want the commitment so he left, he moved on.

This is not an atypical story.  We handle many, many cases like this.  What makes it fairly atypical is that the father earns seven figures a year.  Yes, seven figures.

Laws are written by rich legislators, most often to benefit rich people, or so my perception holds.  Laws almost always seem drafted to protect those that have so that they can have more.  Our child support laws fall into this category, too.

Until January 1, 2007, we had a very straightforward percentage basis for child support.  Roughly put, if you were calculating child support for one child, you took 20% of the non-custodial parent's gross income as child support.  Under the 2007 law, percentages no longer apply.  The way the child support law is now applied is premised upon how much it costs to raise a child.  What child?  Apparently one that eats a lot of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese.

The law has become almost impossibly complex, but the gist of it is that a parent earning greater than $30,000.00 a month can now pay less than a parent earning $6,000.00 a month paid under the old guidelines.  It's nice to have friends in legislative places, huh?

But the law does provide room for the judges to maneuver.  The law does seek equity and fairness, in the best interest of the child. 

In the old law, passed in 1984, the statute said that a judge could deviate from the percentage guidelines if the parent had unusually high income, which it defined as $75,000.00.  That law, too, had wiggle room.  Before too awfully long, about 10 years from its enactment, judges began to blow the doors off of that cap, finding that it bore no rational relation to how a child of a particular parent should be raised. Hence the new statute with the new effort to keep children in penury. 

But this is what the bard meant when he called for the killing of all the lawyers in King Lear:  we have recourse, we have argument, we have rightness and righteousness on our side.  For the child of Donald Trump should live no differently than a child of Donald Trump's should live, as Donald Trump's child.  (Pardon me, Donald Trump for using you as an example.)  What would The Donald do?

This is the standard the judges can and should employ when setting child support on non-custodial parents of significant means.  Payment of Child Support should pinch.  It's your child.  It should not matter whether you are poor, of modest means or quite well off, your obligation to your children, financial and otherwise, should not be easily tossed off, like a nice night on the town.

Some non-custodial parents will read this and decide that mine is not the firm for them.  So be it.  If they so grossly put their pocket book before their progeny, I couldn't represent them anyway.  After all, if there is no right answer in the caring for children, are there ever any?

Michael Manely

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