Most people would agree that financially supporting your children is the right thing to do, including paying any child support ordered by a family law court, if your children live with their other parent. The Court of Special Appeals in Maryland recently had to remind one parent who felt differently about that truism in the case of Kelly v. Montgomery County Office of Child Enforcement (“OCSE”), No. 2504, Sept. Term, 2014 (filed Feb. 24, 2016) (Judges Kehoe, Leahy & Raker).
In the Kelly case, Mr. Kelly owed $9,867.00 for back child support which amount had been reduced to a judgment against him to make it easier for the mother to collect. When OCSE attempted to garnish $2,705.00 from Mr. Kelly’s bank accounts, he objected, lost, and appealed. The family law court ruled that OCSE could garnish Mr. Kelly’s bank accounts under Maryland Law Family Law Article §10-108.3(b)(1), “if an obligor . . . has not paid child support for more than 60 days, the Administration may institute an action to attach and seize the amount of the arrearage in one or more of the accounts of the obligor with a financial institution to satisfy the amount of arrearage owed by the obligor.”
It’s difficult not to be critical of Mr. Kelly’s appeal because the cost of filing an appeal probably exceeded the $2,705.00 that he sought not to pay the child’s mother. However, pyrrhic any legal victory might have been, Mr. Kelly made an interesting legal argument. Under Maryland Law, Courts and Judicial Proceedings Article (“CJP”) §11-504(b)(5), a judgment debtor under certain circumstances can exempt up to $6,000 in cash or other property from a levy to satisfy a money judgment. This law typically applies to debts like unpaid bills, breach of contract, etc . . .
Ultimately the Court of Special Appeals ruled that Kelly was an “obligor” but not a “debtor” for the purposes of the two different laws. As such, the exemption in CJP § 11-504(b)(5) did not apply to efforts to collect unpaid child support payments, the judgment of the circuit court was accordingly affirmed, and OCSE could take the money in Mr. Kelly’s bank account to pay some of his back child support.
So, do you know the difference between the terms “debtor” and “obligor?” It might turn out to be important to you on some future day. And, if someone says “What’s in a name?” you can refer them to the Maryland Court of Special Appeals.