ANNAPOLIS – It’s time to change Maryland’s child support guidelines to reflect the real cost of raising children, said researchers working on a legislative study.
Maryland bases its child support schedule, enacted in 1989, on 1973 economic data, according to a policy study by the University of Maryland School of Social Work and a Colorado research firm. A changing economy and different tax codes have rendered them obsolete, the study concluded.
A move to correct the schedules failed in the House Judiciary Committee during the 2001 General Assembly, but advocates of change are more confident that legislation will be passed in 2002.
“I think the committee is much more receptive now because they have been given the opportunity to study the formula, study the rationale behind the formula, study all the numbers, as well as the theory,” said Delegate Sharon Grosfeld, D-Montgomery, at a committee meeting Tuesday. “They will understand it more and can appreciate the need more.”
The push for revised legislation comes as other states, including Pennsylvania and West Virginia, have taken similar measures to update their child support guidelines.
Child-rearing costs have substantially increased since the original provision was enacted, the study said. Low-income, single-child families spend about 25 percent of their net income on rearing a child. The percentage increases to almost 50 percent for families in the lowest income level raising three children.
Because poverty levels have changed, the study’s proposed guidelines would reduce inequities for low-income earners, and broaden the definition of poverty.
Opponents are concerned that those who are best able to pay child support – middle and upper-income families – will pay proportionally less than low- income families.
“That’s a very legitimate concern, but it’s one taken into account by the economic formula used,” said Grosfeld.
Tax consequences for high-income families balance any advantage that those earners may seem to have, said Grosfeld.
Senate and House versions of the bill differ, a circumstance that Grosfeld said could hurt its chances of passing.
The study compared the existing child support schedule to the proposal, noting that those at the very bottom of the income scale will be most negatively affected, while middle-income families will benefit most.
“Child support is very important because of the sheer number of children that are affected by it,” said Robert Williams, president of Policy Studies Inc., who said about half the children in Maryland will be affected by the child support system. “Everybody in the state, even if they are not directly affected, they know someone, they have a family member who is affected.”
Poverty levels are expected to rise due to economic recession since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, which Williams said is an additional reason to support the legislation.