CHILD SUPPORT: VOLUNTARY IMPOVERISHMENT – CHILD SUPPORT
Lorincz v. Lorincz 183 Md. App. 312 Court of Special Appeals of Maryland, Dec. 3, 2008
Facts: In this case, a mother wanted to modify and increase her child support from what was originally established in a divorce decree because her child care costs had increased. The increase was caused by the mother’s choice to change professional tracks. The couple separated on July 6, 2003, and entered into a Voluntary Separation and Property Settlement Agreement a year later. The mother was awarded primary physical custody of the children and the father was directed to pay child support in the amount of $650 per month.
Two years later, the mother filed a motion to modify the child support because she had increased child care costs. These increased costs were due to the mother’s change from a full time graduate student at the Johns Hopkins University Medical School to a full time student law student at the University of Virginia – School of Law. This career change opened up new professional doors and higher possible earning capacity but set back the date in which her education would pay off. In the meantime, the children went from having grandparents watching them free of charge to being enrolled in the University of Virginia Child Development Center. The mother had summer internships set up at a law firm in New York making $36,424 and had been promised a position paying $160,000 upon graduation from law school.
During this time, the father lived in Washington, D.C. and was employed as a service specialist. He had an Undergraduate Economic Degree and a Master’s Degree in International Trade from Slovakia. He had had a consistent salary of $40,000.
Voluntarily Impoverished Issue: One issue discussed in this decision is whether the mother, by dropping out of medical school after several years and starting a whole new career path in law should be seen as voluntarily impoverishing herself.
Decision: After review, the Court sided with the mother and found that she did not voluntarily impoverish herself so as to have her potential income considered.
Discussion: The child support guideline’s definition of “income” includes “potential income … if the parent is voluntarily impoverished under Family Law Article, § 12-201(h). It is possible that if a parent is voluntarily impoverished, child support may be calculated based on a determination of potential income. “Potential Income” means income attributed to a parent as determined by the parent’s employment potential and probable earnings level. Some things considered are recent work history, occupational qualifications, prevailing job opportunities, and earnings levels in the community.
Here, the issue examined was whether her decision to leave the medical program for the law program should be seen as her voluntarily impoverishing herself.
For matters of considering child support, the Court considered some factors in determining whether the mother was voluntarily impoverished. Some of these factors and the Court’s analysis are:
- her current physical condition;
- her respective level of education – she was within five months of obtaining her law degree and had not failed to take advantage of her career opportunities yet;
- the timing of any change in employment or other financial circumstances relative to divorce proceedings – she did not change career paths immediately upon divorce and was not a tactic designed to gain advantage in the child support calculation;
- the relationship between the parties prior to the initiation of divorce proceedings;
- her efforts to find and retain employment and her efforts to secure retraining if that is needed – her academic efforts, job applications, and job offer all attested to the success of this factor;
- whether she had ever withheld support – she had never since she had always been primary care giver;
- her past work history – she had actually increased the financial ladder from a $24,000 stipend a year to a summer associateship paying $36, 424; and
- the area in which the parties live and the status of the job market there – she was prepared to move to Manhattan, a very lucrative area with plenty of high paying jobs for her
All things considered by the Court led to the finding that she was not voluntarily impoverished. While the intent and purpose of the change doesn’t have to be to avoid paying one’s child support, it must nonetheless be actually to lower the level of income. The mother’s decisions were not even remotely undertaken for the purposes of avoiding the child support obligation. The long-term improvement that the Court pointed out could not be disregarded. The Court saw the mother’s decision “as a career move, and it may be that there were other motivations other than the best career move, or the best monetary move, for her, but [it didn’t] think [that] amounts to voluntary impoverishment.”