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Want to know when child support terminates and whether or not you’ll have to pay college costs?  Here’s a state by state chart.

Real world relationships are tough enough but MapleStory, a free online role playing game, has a divorce rate of 75%.

Andy Chalk writes at EscapistMagazine.com that it costs $25 real dollars to get married in MapleStory.

“I was young, naive, and thought I had met ‘the one.’ says 20 year old Tyler, and 19 year old Seth says “She was only out there to get free things off of me.”

On the bright side,MapleStory divorcees don’t pay alimony or child support and they don’t have to go to court.  I wonder if this will be good practice for  these people when they get married in real life.

            Yesterday, the Supreme Court decided Turner v Rogers, 387 S. C. 142, 691 S. E. 2d 470, a case involving incarceration for contempt of court for failure to pay child support, something which is an every day occurrence in courts all over the country. 

            The petitioner argued that an alleged contemnor facing imprisonment should be entitled to counsel under the U.S. Constitution. Two important policies were in play – individual liberty vs. the interest in prompt and full payment of court-ordered child support.  The Court has previously ruled that civil contempt penalties, including incarceration, do not trigger federal constitutional guaranties because they are not punishment, their purpose is to coerce compliance with the court order.  The time-worn phrase is the Defendant “has the keys to the jailhouse in his pocket.”  If he pays – he walks.

         The Court declined to rule that defendants in civil contempt cases are entitled to legal counsel and, if indigent, one provided by the state.  But the Court held that federal constitution guaranties require substitute procedural safeguards to reduce the risks of erroneous incarcerations of child support defendants who lack the ability to pay.  These safeguards include (1) notice to the defendant that his “ability to pay” is a critical issue in the contempt proceeding; (2) the use of a form (or the equivalent) to elicit relevant financial information from him; (3) an opportunity at the hearing for him to respond to statements and questions about his financial status; and (4) an express finding by the court that the defendant has the ability to pay.  Since the record indicated that Turner was incarcerated without these safeguards, the Court vacated the ruling and remanded the case to the lower court.

What is the right amount of child support?

Here are the guidelines that affect the amount of child support in Maryland, Virginia and Washington, DC. The child support calculator defines the upper limits on combined incomes in Virginia, DC and Maryland.

Check these guidelines to determine if you should pay or receive child support. These calculators also help with the amount of child support.

Child Support Calculator in Maryland

Maryland recently revised its statute to increase the income limit of the child support guideline to combined monthly income of $15,000, and increase support payable at all income levels.  The Maryland guidelines do not explicitly apply to cases where combined monthly income exceeds $15,000.

Maryland case law suggests that it can be appropriate to determine the amount of child support in above guidelines cases by extrapolating at the marginal rate applicable at the highest guidelines bracket.  The most popular Maryland child support calculator, SASI-CALC, extrapolates in that way.

Child Support Calculator in Washington, DC

The District of Columbia child support guidelines apply up to combined monthly income of $20,000.  The District’s guidelines do not apply to cases where the parent’s combined income exceeds $20,000 per month. The amount of child support cannot be less than it would be at $20,000 combined income.

Child Support Calculator in Virginia

The Virginia statutory child support charts end at combined monthly income of $10,000. The statute explicitly provides for the rate of child support on monthly incomes exceeding $10,000.

For example, the total amount of child support for two children increases $5.10 for each $100 dollars of combined income between $10,000 and $20,000.  So no case is “above the guidelines” in Virginia.

Following reconciliation of the house and senate bills, the Maryland Legislature has passed HB 500 – Child Support Guidelines Revision.

The bill has a new matrix for child support, which goes into effect for new cases filed on or after October 1, 2010, and it will increase the amount that most non-custodial parents will have to pay.  The new guidelines will go up to $15,000 in combined income instead of the old cap of $10,000.   However, you cannot petition for an increase in old cases just because the new law has passed.  There would have to be some other change in circumstances.

The legislature did not pass two other proposed bills discussed here:

SB 577 – Family Law – Grounds for Absolute Divorce – Time Requirements.  This bill would have shortened the required separation period from one year (voluntary) and two years (involuntary) for no fault divorces to six months and one year respectively.

SB 578 – Family Law – Grounds for Divorce.   This bill would have allowed people to obtain no fault divorces while separated but living in the same house.

Vickie Duckworth and Darren Kamp got married in 1983, and had three children together.  Then Darren decided to have a vasectomy in 1987.  Vickie became pregnant again in 1992.  Although Darren knew about her affair, he decided to treat the child as his own.

The couple stayed together until 1998 and filed for divorce in 1999.  In their separation agreement and divorce, Darren stated that he was the father of all four children.

In 2005, Vickie filed a motion to modify child support because Darren was making more money.  Darren had had enough.  In his response he said that he was not the biological father of the fourth child, and asked for a DNA test.  The court granted his request, and the DNA test came back negative,  Since Darren was not the biological father, the Court said he was not required to pay child support.

The Maryland Court of Appeals reversed, and sent the case back to the trial court for further proceedings, saying the judge must first consider whether or not a DNA test was in the best interests of the child.  And those considerations should take into account the length of time that Darren had maintained a father-child relationship.

Kamp v. Dep’t of Human Services, Maryland Court of Appeals, September 21, 2009

The number of motions by dads to decrease child their child support payments are on the rise as a result of the problem economy.  The rate of unemployment for men is 9.8% compared to 7.5% for women.  And there are more noncustodial dads than moms out there.

Motions to modify child support have tripled in the last one and a half years in Prince George’s County, Maryland.  It used to be most motions were from custodial parents seeking an increase.  Now most motions are from noncustodial parents seeking a decrease.

Unless the parties are able to work it out for themselves, and file a consent order changing alimony, the court will have to determine whether it is in the best interest of the child to reduce child support.  There will be a hearing and it is not enough to say the economy is bad and I lost my job.  The judge will want to know what actions you are taking to do something about it.

Source, Megan K. Scott, AP Reporter.

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

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.