ANNAPOLIS – Emphasizing the importance of a college education, one lawmaker has introduced a novel bill to extend child support, ensuring children of divorced families can afford higher education.
Under the “Family Law – Child Support – Age of Majority – Postsecondary Education” Act introduced by Delegate Peter Franchot, D-Montgomery, parents would be required to assist children until they graduate from college or turn 23.
“You can’t really be competitive without a college degree these days,” Franchot said. “Yes, it is a little bit controversial. There are lots of people who are defenders of non-custodial parents who might object.”
“It is a good civic lesson. I wouldn’t have run into it if I hadn’t had Byron (Macfarlane) as a legislative aide this year.”
Macfarlane, 21, a senior at the University of Maryland, College Park was the only person to testify on the bill Wednesday before the House Judiciary Committee.
“A college education is honestly a necessity in an economy rapidly focusing more and more on high-tech, highly-skilled jobs.”
The child of divorced parents, he credits his mother with enabling him to go to college.
“As long as I can remember, she has sacrificed for my brother, sister and me.”
Macfarlane’s older brother John, 24, who attended the hearing, had similar difficulties affording college, so he enlisted in the Army Reserves. His unit is heading to Iraq later this year.
“But it still would have been helpful had I had my father’s additional support during that time,” John Macfarlane III said.
Efforts to reach their father, John Macfarlane Jr., were unsuccessful.
John Macfarlane supports his brother’s efforts to get the bill passed.
“I know he is really passionate about trying to benefit the majority of people, especially since he’s had the experience of having his tuition raised repeatedly.”
The University of Maryland, College Park has seen tuition rise 30 percent in three years.
But while Byron Macfarlane was the only student to testify he said he is not the only one such legislation would affect.
“Too many of us don’t get the support we need from non-custodial parents after our parents divorce. We need that support if we are going to be able to get a college degree and realistically compete in the workforce.”
But while delegates on the House Judiciary Committee support the idea, they do not believe it will pass.
“Certainly no one said no to us,” Franchot said.
Kathleen M. Dumais, D-Montgomery, introduced similar legislation last year.
Dumais said it took more than 10 years to get Judiciary to change the law making the child support age 18, unless the child is in high school and reaches age 19.
“It is a radical shift, anytime you do something that is way beyond the norm of what we have today,” said Delegate Susan K. McComas, R-Harford. “I have already had constituents write me about this. . . . I have never received such a rapid response from constituents.”
Other delegates agreed.
“Personally, I think it is a beautiful idea but politically it would require such an upheaval of culture as to make its passage unlikely,” said Delegate Luiz R. S. Simmons, D-Montgomery.
Multiple states mandate support until the child reaches their 20’s. In neighboring Washington, D.C., support ends at age 21 and in other states at age 23, if a person is enrolled in an educational institution.
The Family and Juvenile Law Section Council of the Maryland State Bar Association supported a similar bill proposed by Dumais last year, but is not yet taking a position on this bill.
Council Chairman Barry J. Dalnekoff said in an e-mail the council “conceptually supports the extension of child support in certain instances, but believes that further study is necessary in order to determine how such a sweeping change in the current law should be enacted.”
But while Byron Macfarlane said he understands this isn’t a perfect solution, “it is an excellent start.”