“Debtor” or an “Obligor” – Child Support and Your Bank Account

When you are ordered to pay child support, there are severe consequences if you don’t make your payments. You could have your license suspended, you could be incarcerated, and the court could order your bank to give the Office of Child Support Enforcement all the funds in your bank account.

This is what happened in the recent case, Kelly v. Montgomery County Office of Child Support Enforcement. 227 Md. App. 106.  Byron Kelly was $9,866.80 behind in child support payments. The Office of Child Support Enforcement sought to collect part of this amount by issuing a writ of garnishment to Capital One Bank, N.A. Kelly had two accounts at Capital One Bank in his name with a combined balance of $2, 705.05. The Bank was required therefore to give this money to the Office of Child Support Enforcement.

The Maryland Family Law Article § 10-108.3(b)(1) reads in pertinent part: “If an obligor [who is more than $5000.00 in arrears in child support payments] 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.” 227 Md. App. at 111.

However, Kelly had a problem with this because he believed the money in his accounts at Capital One Bank should be exempt. He believed this because the Courts and Judicial Proceedings Article § 11-504 (b)(5) “permits a judgment debtor under certain circumstances to elect to exempt up to $6,000 in cash or other property from a levy to satisfy a money judgment.” 227 Md. App. 108.  This is exactly what Kelly wanted to do. Kelly admitted that he owed a large sum of money in child support, but argued that this particular money (the money in the bank accounts) should be exempt from collection. However, the court found that he was not able to hold this exemption, because he was not a “debtor”, but instead an “obligor.”

So what exactly is the difference between a “debtor” and an “obligor”? The Court of Special Appeals discussed that a “debtor” is someone who owes money to another, while an “obligor” is someone “who must pay money arising out of a separate and separately enforceable legal duty.” 227 Md. App. 112.

The Court “held that exemptions permitting judgment debtor to exempt personal property from levy did not apply to efforts to collect unpaid child support from obligor.” 227 Md. App. 106.

The court goes on to discuss that one of the reasons, exemptions are in place for “debtors” is to protect the family unit and make sure that the family has means available to provide for themselves. The court explained that if they were to apply the exemption to child support payments, they would be doing just the opposite of what the purpose of the exemption is meant to do. There is a strong public policy to look out for the best interests of the child and this decision does just that.

The lesson of the case is the State of Maryland takes Child Support Obligations very seriously. These obligations will be enforced to the fullest and it is imperative that parties who are assessed a child support obligation abide by it and proactively satisfy the amount due.