WashingtonPost.Com received over a thousand comments on its front page story Sunday by Anne Hull about Laura Steins, 47, of Harrison, New York.

Steins got the $2.5 million dollar house in her divorce and $75,000 a year in child support.  She makes $150,000 a year plus a bonus at her job as a MasterCard VP.  She also has about $50,000 a year in investment income.  That’s over $300,000 a year.

But it costs her $8,000 to $10,000 a month to keep up her 4,000 square foot house on three acres. Her property taxes are $35,000 a year, the nanny is $40,000, the gardener is $500 a month and there is someone to plow the driveway in the winter.

“A), I couldn’t sell the house right now,” she says, citing the slow real estate market. “B), this is where my kids go to school. And C), it’s where my job is,” says Steins.

A lot of comments, some from people who make closer to what the nanny makes than what Steins makes, were not sympathetic to her plight.

Mary Connole married Ernst DeGroot in 1984 in the District of Columbia.  They had two children.  Difficulties arose between them and they decided to separate in 1997 and they were divorced in 1999.  Neither party asked for child support, but Ernst paid $600 a month in child support to Mary until 2004 when the oldest child turned 19.  Then he unilaterally reduced the payments to $300 a month and Mary filed a motion in DC to award child support.

The trouble was that no one still lived in DC.  Mary and the children now lived in Maryland and Ernest now lived in Virginia.  The trial court denied the motion finding it had no jurisdiction over the subject matter.

The DC Court of Appeals reversed.  First it looked at prior cases in the District of Columbia holding the court does not lose jurisdiction to modify child support when the parties move to other jurisdictions.  The court then turned to the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (UIFSA) to see if it limited the court’s powers.  The court noted that UIFSA did say that a court loses its powers to modify its child support orders when the parties leave the jurisdiction.

However, in this case, Mary was asking the court to establish an initial child support order in a divorce it had already decided.  The court could find nothing in UIFSA that prevented the DC court from doing just that.

The first image broadcast by network television was a picture of Felix the Cat.  I remember watching Felix on tv when I was a kid.  He had a Magic Bag of Tricks and whenever he got stumped by a problem, he would reach into his bag and pull out some tool or device that would help him solve the problem.

I wish I had a Magic Bag of Tricks in real life.  A lawyer can do a lot of things, but sometimes the tools in my toolbox are limited.  Clients look to their lawyers to solve all sorts of problems.  But first you have to have a problem that the law recognizes as a problem.  For example, I wrote recently that not every marital agreement is recognized by law as an enforceable contract.

The law does not provide a remedy for every wrong.  There is no legal tool that will turn your difficult spouse into a nicer, more reasonable and responsible person.   I can get alimony and child support and property, but I probably cannot recover damages for the hurt you felt during your marriage.  The court can give you a visitation schedule, but it can’t make your child want to visit with you.  I can’t make your spouse settle on your terms and I can’t make opposing counsel return my calls if they don’t want to.

As a mediator said to one of my clients, “I only have a pen, not a magic wand.”

In 1986, Essie Lee Morrison of Georgia had a child.  She told her boyfriend, Frank Hatley, now 50 years old, that the child was his.  The two never married and broke up shortly afterwards.

Morrison applied for public support for the child when the child was two years old.   Georgia then collected child support payments from Hatley for the next thirteen years.

In 2000, Hatley learned that the child might not be his. A DNA test confirmed it.  The Court released him from any future child support.  But he signed an agreement with the Office of Child Support Services to pay over $16,000 in past due child support.

Hatley continued to pay that debt down to about $10,000, but fell behind in 2006 when he lost his job.  He was jailed for six months.  He resumed paying.  Then he became unemployed again and lost his home.  The court put him back in jail in June of 2008.

Finally, the court released him from jail last month finding that he was indigent and should not be jailed for failing to make the child support payments.  The debt has been canceled but the State has yet to release his driver’s license and income tax refunds.

More on this story at CNN.com

TGC Attorney James J. Gross will speak at the Commission for Women tonight at 7:00 pm on Negotiating a Separation Agreement with Your Spouse.

The seminar will include the advantages of an agreement over a contested divorce, what to include in an agreement, tips and tactics, strategies for negotiation, the different stages of negotiation and different negotiation techniques.

The cost is $20.  Call (240) 777-8300 for more information.  The Commission for Women is located at 401 N. Washington Street, Rockville, Maryland.

It may not be a good idea to try to increase child support during a recession.  House Bill 1401 which would have increased Maryland Child Support Guidelines, for the first time in 20 years, did not make it out of committee.  The House Judiciary Committee plans do a “summer study” of the bill.

“We will reserve our comments for the court.”  – Lois Finkelstein in “NBA Star Bosh Bashed in Suit for Child Support” by Caryn Tamber of The Daily Record, March 26, 2009.

James J. Gross was interviewed by KMOX Radio on “Divorce in a Recession”, March 2, 2009.

A bill introduced in the Maryland House of Delegates that would revise and increase child support guidelines is winding its way through the legislature. The guidelines are based on the statistical estimated cost of raising children in 1998 and have not been updated for 20 years. The bill had its first reading on February 25, 2009.

The prince ran off with his secretary.  The princess sued him for divorce based on adultery and desertion.   She got custody, child support, alimony, lawyer fees, the castle and half the kingdom.  And then they lived happily ever after.

Money will bring a whole new set of problems into your life if you experience a divorce.

If you think that money buys happiness, or a little more money will solve your problems, I can assure you that more money will bring a whole new set of problems into your life if you experience a divorce.

Just ask Keith Lee and Lori Andochick of Frederick County, Maryland, who married in 1993, separated in 2004 and were divorced in 2007.   As a partner in the investment firm of Brown Capital of Baltimore, Maryland, Mr. Lee made $1,760,282 in 2006.  Dr. Andochick, a dentist, made $267,000 that year.

The Court awarded Dr. Andochick $10,000 a month in spousal support, $15,000 a month in child support for their two children, $2,200 a month in other costs for the children, a monetary award payable at $250,000 a year for five years and attorney fees.

Mr. Lee appealed the alimony award.  The Court of Special Appeals reversed the case.  The Court calculated the annual numbers on Mr. Lee like this:

Gross Income                         $1,760.282
Less Taxes                                ($762,282)
Less Debt Obligations             ($636,588)
Child Support and Alimony*  ($278,400)
Monetary Award                      ($250,000)

Total                                         ($166,988)

In other words, Mr. Lee would have had to borrow about $167,000 a year just to make ends meet and even then he would have nothing left over for food and personal expenses.  The Appeals Court found that the trial judge “did not do the math.”

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