ANNAPOLIS – Child support payments from a man in prison may be reviewed if he has not paid because he was in jail, the Maryland Court of Appeals said Wednesday.
Voting 7-0, the judges ruled that a prisoner’s incarceration could be called a change of circumstance if it affects his ability to pay child support.
Judge Robert C. Murphy, writing for the court, also said that the theory that prisoners are “voluntarily impoverished” is not true in all cases.
“We conclude that a prisoner is not `voluntarily impoverished’ unless he or she committed a crime with the intent of going to prison or otherwise becoming impoverished,” Murphy wrote.
According to court documents, Randy W. Jones of Anne Arundel County was paying $50 a week in child support before he began serving a 10-year sentence in September 1992 for a crime not named in the appellate court decision, but unrelated to child support.
Jones asked for a stay of enforcement of making payments — essentially, that the court order authorities not to collect from him. He was denied in an administrative hearing because his prison sentence was called “self-induced and voluntary.”
Maryland’s Family Law Article says that a court may modify the amount of an child support award based on a change in circumstances, barring someone’s “free and conscious choice … to render himself or herself without adequate resources.”
But Anne Arundel County Circuit Judge James Cawood disagreed and granted Jones’ motion, saying that Jones had not impoverished himself voluntarily by committing a crime. The Maryland Court of Special Appeals upheld Cawood earlier this year.
The Court of Appeals vacated both lower court rulings, saying that while the payments could be reduced, neither court had the authority to stay the enforcement.
“Although it is conceivable that a child support award could be modified to $0 per month if the parent’s income were low enough … the obligation to pay child support would remain,” Judge Murphy wrote.
The definition of “voluntarily impoverished” was the focus of the case, wrote Murphy.
“The prisoner’s loss of income and subsequent reduced child support obligation cannot make the prisoner richer than before the commission of the crime,” Murphy wrote.
Jones’ case now goes back to circuit court, where a hearing will determine if his child support payments will be modified. None of the lawyers involved in the case were available for comment about the decision. -30-