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Fathers See Rift Among Lawyers

Child Support Guidelines Are Flawed

Massachusetts News, Jan. 15, 2001


The state’s fathers are hoping that they see a rift among lawyers in Massachusetts over the amount of child support that a father must pay.

The two largest groups of lawyers, the Massachusetts Bar (MBA) and the Boston Bar (BBA), have both notified the Chief Justice for Administration and Management that a "top-to-bottom review" is required of the guidelines that judges are required to use when determining child support.

But the BBA, which is dominated by the large firms which work mainly for large corporations and has more feminists, is less enthusiastic than the MBA, which represents firms and lawyers from across the entire state.

The Boston lawyers want some changes immediately. One of those is about mothers who work and also receive child-support payments. The BBA believes the amount of money a woman should be allowed to earn, before a judge can consider her earnings when determining the father’s payments, should be raised above the $15,000 limit that is presently imposed.

However, the fathers say that the $15,000 limit should be totally eliminated and all of a woman’s income should be included, the same as the man’s.

Fathers at ‘Breaking Point’

"May I state to you in the plainest possible terms that non-custodial fathers in Massachusetts are at the breaking point," wrote Mark Charalambous, spokesman for the fathers, to Chief Justice Barbara A. Dortch-Okara.

"Unless the Guideline is changed appropriately to allow [fathers] to keep enough of their income to provide a roof over their heads, decent accommodations for their children while in their care, and food in the refrigerator to feed them, the Commonwealth will be responsible for the civil unrest and upheaval that will surely ensue.

"Ms. Dortch-Okara, the notion that [the courts should disregard the income of] one, but not both, of the parents, is plainly unjust on its face. To suggest that the custodial parent's income [should be disregarded] is so transparently sexist as to be absurd.

"It is time for you to do the right thing and stand up to the BBA and women's advocates who apparently will never be placated until men are sold into slavery."

Rift Between Lawyers

Although both the BBA and the MBA joined in the request last month that a "comprehensive review" be made of all the guidelines, there is clearly a rift between the two organizations of lawyers. This was pointed out to the Chief Justice by the fathers, who wrote:

"While we are encouraged that the Massachusetts Bar Association recognizes the need to have representatives from non-custodial fathers paying child support [be on any committee investigating the matter], the Fatherhood Coalition is extremely alarmed at the recommendations made by the Boston Bar Association, who insist that child support awards in Massachusetts are not high enough."

Unhappy with Dortch-Okara

Although neither of the bar associations complained to Justice Dortch-Okara, observers say they are obviously unhappy with the way she conducted the review process, which was required by federal law, this past year. It is too late to change that, but they want her to move forward immediately without waiting for the next federal mandate which will not be until four years from now.

Many lawyers who did not wish to be quoted tell MassNews that the guidelines are often very unfair, particularly to men.

Both the MBA and the BBA have informed the Chief Justice for Administration that they are concerned about the fairness of the present Child Support Guidelines.

The MBA has requested a "comprehensive review" because of "real and serious concerns about many inequities" that arise out of "application of the existing child support guidelines."

In a letter to Justice Dortch-Okara, the lawyers urged her to appoint a commission to report back in no later than a year. They asked that the changes be implemented within six months thereafter.

Lawyers Urged to Seek "Deviations"

Meanwhile, they are "urging" lawyers to make "requests for deviations" where appropriate and judges to grant such requests where "rigid application" of the guidelines would produce an "unfair result."

The MBA has been joined by the Massachusetts Chapter of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers in urging action by the Chief Justice.

The Boston Bar Association has also joined, saying that it shares "the MBA’s view that a comprehensive committee be appointed to really analyze these guidelines." It said it would "like to be involved in a top-to-bottom review of the guidelines."

However, the Boston Bar also requested that four changes be made now in contradiction to the MBA which said, "This is an extremely important issue. There are serious defects, serious problems, that need to be examined. A band-aid approach could be very dangerous."

The MBA committee said in its report that "[n]o assumption should be made that the existing guidelines are fair and equitable; instead, critical examination of the problems and unfair results the guidelines produce should be studied fully."

BBA Wants Four Immediate Changes

The BBA recommended that four changes be made immediately.

Mothers be allowed to earn more than $15,000/year before having the child support payments decreased.

Currently, the guidelines do not apply if the combined gross income of the parents exceeds $100,000 or where the father’s gross income is more than $75,000. These should be raised to include more cases.

The current monthly, minimum support order of $50 be raised to at least $75.

The amount that a mother is allowed to earn without having her child support payments decreased should also include how it relates to her child-care costs.

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