Wednesday, December 3, 2008
An interesting case decided today by the Maryland Court of Special Appeals dealt with a motion to modify child support filed by the mother, who had left a doctorate program at Johns Hopkins and enrolled in law school at the University of Virginia. The parties married in January 2001, had twins in February 2003 and separated in July 2003.
The mother took out student loans as well as a loan from her father, choosing a top tier law school to increase her chances for a job with significant earning potential. She got a summer job at Clifford Chance and was paid $3,017 per week for 12 weeks. She was offered and has accepted full-time employment at the firm when she graduates, at a salary of $160,000 plus discretionary bonus. The key issue before the master was whether she had "voluntarily impoverished" herself by returning to law school after the summer job and should be treated as having imputed additional income based on the summer salary. The master and circuit court so found.
The court here rejected that conclusion, finding that any impoverishment was not voluntary:
...the Mother's relentless and unremitting purpose was not to impoverish herself but to improve her financial position....The Father in this case seems to be bemoaning the fact that the Mother is not remaining in her graduate studies at Hopkins with a stipend of $2,000 per month but is engaged in a career change that will in short order result in a significantly improved financial situation to the benefit of all parties...Although ranging over a broad swath of child support law, this entire battle between Mother and Father has been waged over the limited issue of who was going to pay what percentage of the cost of child care. The Mother sought to have the Father pay a share of child care while she attended the University of Virginia Law School. She lost in that regard. The Father, for his part, sought to have his share of the cost of child care during the Mother's summer associateship reduced, through a roundabout series of rulings, from about 53% to about 20%. He lost in that regard. Unless this peripheral struggle is now encouraged to take on a life of its own, this controversy over the respective shares of responsibility for child care costs will, within a very few months, be history, even if not quite ancient history. It seems to us that that is where it belongs.