Judge denies challenge to child support rules
1/5/2009, 4:46 p.m. EST
By DENISE LAVOIE
The Associated Press
BOSTON (AP) — A federal judge on Monday rejected a bid to stop state family court judges from using new child support guidelines that a fathers' rights group claims are unfair.
Fathers and Families Inc., a Boston-based group that pushes for reform of child custody and support policies, last month sued the state's chief administrative Judge Robert Mulligan and state trial court judges over the new guidelines — which the group claims are burdensome to fathers and do not take into account the costs of raising children.
Judge Douglas Woodlock denied the group's request for an injunction to stop the new guidelines from being used, saying it would be inappropriate for the federal courts to get involved in a battle over state guidelines.
Ned Holstein, the executive director of Fathers and Families, said the group will likely refile the lawsuit in state court.
In its complaint, the group said the new guidelines call for support payments to be calculated based primarily on income, not the expenses incurred by the parents to raise the child. The group said the new guidelines also fail to take into account factors affecting income such as tax status, marital status, employment status and obligations to support other children.
Todd Sandahl, a father from Walpole who is one of the people suing Mulligan, said his weekly child support payments for his 11-year-old daughter will jump from $353 per week to about $403 per week under the new guidelines.
"They are absolutely more extortionate than the old guidelines," Sandahl said.
"We're not saying child support payments should be eliminated. We're saying it should be fair."
In a statement issued Monday, Mulligan said the new guidelines were based on a review by a task force that analyzed data and "thoughtfully considered diverse perspectives."
"I am very confident, based on my review and their recommendations, that the changes are in the best interests of children across the state," Mulligan said.
Mulligan said the new guidelines include provisions that consider the increase in health insurance costs and the requirement of mandatory health insurance in Massachusetts and provide greater guidance to judges for when a child support order should be modified.
But Holstein, who was a member of the task force, said the revised guidelines will increase the financial burden on many divorced fathers who are already struggling to make support payments.
"Somewhere there has to be relief for people who are going to be driven into poverty by the actions of a single judge who is unelected and not accountable to the public," Holstein said.
Editor's Note: Denise Lavoie is a Boston-based reporter covering the courts and legal issues. She can be reached at dlavoie(at)ap.org
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