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Case Summary (Maryland Court of Special Appeals): Office of Child Support Enforcement (Polly) v. Brown

Posted by Sarah I. Malik on April 11, 2018 at 10:00 PM


April 5, 2018

The Court of Special Appeals reversed the circuit court's ruling, finding that the minor child's grandmother may receive the child support payments escrowed to the minor child's deceased parent and that the trial court cannot eliminate a parent's child support arrears upon the death of the other parent.

Mother (Polly) and Father (Brown) were parents to two children.  During mother's life, Brown was ordered to pay child support for both children through the Office of Child Support Enforcement. In September 2014, when the children were ages 17 and 10, Polly passed away and the children's maternal grandmother, Willie Mae Polly, began caring for the children. The Office of Child Support Enforcement began holding Brown's child support payments in escrow after the mother's death. In April 2016, the Office then sought to intervene and have the child support funds released to the maternal grandmother.

Approximately four months later, the circuit court awarded custody of the youngest child to Brown.  Following the change in custody, Brown filed a motion in August 2016 to terminate the child support payments, eliminate his child support arrears and order the Office of Child Support Enforcement to release the escrowed child support payments back to him because the child was now be living with him.  The trial court ultimate granted Brown's requests.  The Office of Child Support appealed the court's ruling on releasing the escrowed funds to Brown and eliminating his arrearages.

In reversing the trial court's decision the Court of Special Appeals held that the trial court did have legal authority to release the escrowed funds to the grandmother.  Generally, child support is an obligation paid to the child and not to the parent; therefore, the parent's obligation to pay child support does end upon the death of the other parent. See Newkirk v. Newkirk, 73 Md. App. 588 (1988).  The circuit court could have released the funds to the grandmother because she cared for the minor children after their mother's death, despite the fact that the grandmother had no legal authority over the children.

Additionally, the circuit court could not wipe out Brown's child support arrearages because of  Polly's death.  Family Law section 12-104(b) provides that a court "may not retroactively modify a child support award prior to the date of the filing of the motion for modification."  The case of Harvey v. Marshall, 389 Md. 243 (2005) further provides that this retroactive modification prevents a court from wiping out child support arrearages. Because Brown's motion to modify child support obligations was filed in August 2016, any arrears accumulated prior to this date remained and could not be eliminated by the court.

The complete opinion can be found here:

Categories: Maryland Family Law

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