Fathers and Families has agreed to be a signatory to an amicus brief in an appeal of a half-million-dollar child support order to the Indiana Court of Appeals.
Ned Holstein, MD, MS, Founder and Chair of the Board of Fathers and Families, reviewed the brief at the request of the Indianapolis law firm of Bose, McKinney & Evans, LLP, who incorporated some of his suggestions.
The Fathers and Families Legal Defense Fund gets involved in legal challenges which can advance the cause of shared parenting and equality in family court. To learn more about some of the cases the F & F LDF has handled, click here.
Below is Dr. Holstein’s write-up of the case, Bir v. Bir:
Allan and Cynthia Bir were married in 1990. A petition for divorce was filed in early 2008. Allan was ordered to pay $4,300 per month for support of the two children.
New Indiana Child Support Guidelines went into effect January 1, 2010. Cynthia filed for modified child support based on the new Guidelines. Because the new Guidelines contain no leveling off of the child support obligation at high incomes, they called for child support of about $1,965,000 per year in this case! (Both children are said to be healthy and to have no special needs.)
Allan submitted evidence to the court showing that the children’s needs are approximately $8,600 per month, or $103,200 per year total for the two children. The court rejected the $1,965,000 called for by the Guidelines. However, it did not adopt Allan’s reasonable proposal of over $100,000 in child support per year. Instead, it ordered $8,600 per week.
In other words, Allan submitted evidence supporting an amount of $8,600 per month, and the court ordered $8,600 per week, or $447,200 per year.
Family court judges are given so much discretion they can make mystifying orders without ever having to explain themselves. As Allan’s lawyer wrote in a brief, “There are no findings which support or even explain why the Father’s budget is inadequate or unreasonable, or why the provisional child support awarded is 4.3 times the amount of Father’s budget.”
Allan has now appealed his case to the Indiana Court of Appeals, and Fathers and Families has signed on to an amicus brief in support of his appeal. Fathers and Families is considering filing legislation in several states that would place a reasonable ceiling on child support orders. It is hard to see why any child needs more than perhaps $50,000 of tax-free child support per year if the child has no special medical, educational, or psychological needs.
Parents are free to support a child as lavishly as they like from the love in their hearts, but why should the state be involved in ordering and enforcing such transfers of wealth if parents do not want to do it? Where is the harm to children from receiving “only” $50,000 per year that rises to the level requiring state intervention, if in fact there is any harm whatsoever?
Aren’t there some circumstances in which a loving and perceptive parent would conclude that a child would in fact be harmed by being showered with excessive material perks? Haven’t we all known the “spoiled kid” who drove a BMW to school every day, and observed the distorted slant on life such children often have?
Shouldn’t a parent, not the state, have the power to decide what is best for his or her child? Do we really want a state that has the power to compel transfers of wealth from one person to another beyond any reasonable need just because the first party has the money to do it?
Some people would answer the above questions by pointing to a case in which the custodial parent had little or no income, and that $50,000 or $60,000 per year was needed to maintain an adequate household for the child. This argument raises numerous rejoinders.
First, the median household income in Indiana in 2009 was $46,579, out of which parents are required to pay income and payroll taxes. How then can someone argue that a household needs more than this amount in tax-free income?
Second, it will be rare in this age to find a custodial parent who is unable to generate any reasonable income but whose ex-partner is extremely wealthy. So such cases would be rare, and could be handled with a narrowly-drawn clause that would provide for such instances if necessary.
Every state’s Guidelines should include a ceiling on child support orders for children who do not have special needs or circumstances. Otherwise, we will have judges ordering $447,200 per year based only on their own personal philosophy, without any evidence of need by the child.
Ned Holstein, MD, MS
Founder and Chair of the Board
The full amicus brief can be seen here.