CHILD SUPPORT NIGHTMARE
by: Mace H. Greenfield
The June 2002 article in Newsday, “Child Support Case Painful, Complex,” is indicative of the blunders regularly found in child support cases in Family Court. Based on the information in that article only, it is important to know the following: At the time of the parties’ divorce, the father had already lost his job as a police officer, and was under a therapist’s care. In the divorce, the parties agreed to child support to be set at $50.00 per week.
To increase the child support, the law requires that either an unexpected, unforeseen, unreasonable change of circumstance or a substantial change in circumstance occur, depending on the form of the settlement. Thus, the father’s earning capacity as a police officer no longer applied in that case. Additionally, based on the incomes of the father reported in the article, he earned less than the Federal Self Support Reserve. Thus, he should not have been obligated to pay the full rate of child support calculated on his actual income. Further, his income seems to have also been under the Federal Poverty Guidelines, which means he should not have been obligated to pay more than $25.00 per month. Finally, being that his income was under the federal poverty guidelines, his arrears can never legally exceed $500.00.
So, what happened? Once again, the law and the rules of this State were ignored by the Court. A Hearing Examiner is hired on a three year contract to set child support and have it collected through the Support Collection Unit. The more money collected through the system, the more matching Federal funds the County will receive. Thus, rather than applying the law, they apply a calculator, at the expense of both taxpayers and non-custodial parents. The excuse given most often is that the support payer did not present the above in his defense. But, non-custodial parents like the one in the article cannot afford a lawyer and do not know better. A Hearing Examiner is an attorney who is not only supposed to know the law, but apply the law as well.
As a custodial father, Suffolk County Family Court and Support Collection Unit screwed up my child support case and the collection of my support ten years ago to the point that I withdrew my case from the courts and decided to change careers and become a lawyer. As a lawyer, I find the system to be worse than I thought it was when I was a litigant.