Maryland Appellate Court Rules Parent Cannot Bargain Away Child Support Without Court Approval

1420651_watching_the_sunsetIn Guidash v. Tome, the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland ruled on whether a circuit court had erred in its factual findings in a child support case. The case arose from a couple’s 1991 marriage. The couple had two children. By 2001, the marriage was over and the couple entered into a separation and property settlement agreement. The separation agreement gave the parties joint legal and physical custody of the kids such that they lived 3 days with their father and 4 with their mother.

The agreement also permitted the mother to live in the marital home for 10 years, during which time the father was responsible for the mortgage, taxes and insurance. The father kept the kids on his medical insurance policy and paid half their medical expenses. The mother agreed to transfer her interest in the marital home to the husband for $25,000 and waived any interest in his pension for $20,000. The parties agreed there would be no child support because of the decisions made regarding the marital home. The agreement expressly provided a court could not modify this agreement.

Afterward, the husband filed a divorce complaint with the separation agreement attached as an exhibit. The court granted the divorce and incorporated the separation agreement into its judgment. From 2001-2011, the mother and the kids lived in the marital home. The husband abided by the terms of the agreement, paying the requisite sums.

In 2011, the mother filed a motion for modification of child support so that the father would have to pay child support for their one remaining child. The basis for this motion was that the mother was no longer living in the marital home and the income of the parties had changed, constituting a material change in circumstances.

The father opposed the motion, claiming that he already paid for the health insurance for both his sons, that his son stayed with him every week for two days, as well as holidays. The mother argued that her son visited his father much less frequently than the father claimed. She also claimed that she had to pay to rent an apartment now that the father owned the marital home. The master found that the parents’ combined monthly income pre-taxes was $11,865 and that the material change of circumstances alleged by the mother warranted instituting of child support at $1140 per month in accordance with Maryland guidelines.

The father filed exceptions to the master’s fact-finding and recommendations. He argued that the separation agreement was not modifiable, that there was no material change, that the master should not have attributed $1500 in monthly rental income to him, that the mother did not need to incur transportation expenses, and not in the sum incurred, and that the master improperly recommended child support based on sole rather than joint custody. The court denied the father’s exceptions and adopted the master’s recommendations. The father appealed.

The appellate court noted at the outset of its discussion that use of the guidelines to determine child support was mandatory and that the court that granted the divorce should have issued a specific or written finding as to why the guidelines would be unfair in this particular case or else used them. The father argued that because the parties agreed their separation agreement was not modifiable, the court could not modify it. He also argued that having to pay child support was an “unanticipated debt”.

The appellate court commented that although separation agreements are favored, parents cannot waive or bargain away a child’s right to receive support and that child support is always subject to modification in Maryland. The court also reasoned that the father’s obligation to pay child support was to his son, not his spouse, and no agreement with his spouse could remove that obligation. Therefore, the circuit court’s award of child support was affirmed.

If you are dealing with difficult family law matters like the one described above, the well-being of your children may depend on hiring a qualified and knowledgeable attorney like Anthony Fatemi and his legal team. Call them at toll-free at (888) 519-2801 for a legal consultation.

More Blogs:

Same Sex Marriage in Maryland, Maryland Divorce Lawyer Blog, April 4, 2013

Maryland Court Affirms Constitutionality of Rules Regarding Natural Parent’s Objections, Maryland Divorce Lawyer Blog, April 3, 2013

Case Summary: Sole Legal Physical Custody Awarded to Dad, Maryland Divorce Lawyer Blog, March 21, 2013

 

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