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Prince George's County Office of Child Support Enforcement ex rel. Polly v. Brown

Court of Special Appeals of Maryland

April 5, 2018

PRINCE GEORGE'S COUNTY OFFICE OF CHILD SUPPORT ENFORCEMENT EX REL. LASHAUN POLLY (DECEASED)
v.
DOUGLAS BROWN

          Circuit Court for Prince George's County Case No. CAS98-22721

          Eyler, Deborah S., Shaw Geter, Thieme, Raymond G., Jr. (Senior Judge, Specially Assigned), JJ.

          OPINION

          THIEME, J.

         The Circuit Court for Prince George's County issued an order that, among other things, eliminated the child support arrearages Douglas Brown had accrued, and released to him child support payments that the Prince George's County Office of Child Support Enforcement had held in escrow for the almost two years his children lived with their maternal grandmother. The Office appeals, essentially asking the following questions[1]:

1. Did the circuit court err as a matter of law when it ruled that it lacked the legal authority to release the escrowed child support payments to the children's maternal grandmother because she was not the original payee on the child support order?
2. Did the circuit court err as a matter of law when it eliminated Brown's child support arrearages?

         We answer both questions in the affirmative. Therefore, we shall reverse and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

         FACTS

         On February 14, 1997, Jada was born to Lashaun Polly and Douglas Brown. The following year, the Prince George's County Office of Child Support Enforcement (the "Office"), filed a complaint against Brown for child support on Polly's behalf The Circuit Court for Prince George's County found in favor of Polly and ordered Brown to pay $432 per month in child support, through the Office, beginning June 1, 1999.

         On April 3, 2004, a second child, Sonee, was born to Polly and Brown. In 2011, the Office filed a motion to establish paternity and a motion to modify child support to include Sonee. On October 13, 2011, the circuit court declared Brown to be Sonee's father and ordered Brown to pay $818 per month in child support for both children, through the Office, beginning July 1, 2011. Finding that Brown was $1, 518.01 in arrears, the court also ordered him to pay $25 per month toward the balance.

         On September 8, 2014, Polly died. Jada was 17 years old; Sonee was 10. Willie Mae Polly, the children's maternal grandmother began caring for the children. On December 14, 2014, the Office began holding in escrow Brown's child support payments because there was no order authorizing the Office to release the payments to the grandmother. On April 12, 2016, the Office filed a motion to intervene on behalf of the grandmother in the child support case, seeking an order authorizing it to disburse the payments it held in escrow to the grandmother because Sonee lived with her.[2] At that time, Brown owed $15, 557.77 in arrearages.

         About three months later, in July 2016, the circuit court awarded custody of Sonee to Brown, to start on August 14, 2016; the grandmother was given reasonable visitation. On August 1, 2016, Brown filed a motion asking the circuit court to terminate his on-going child support obligation, eliminate his arrearages, and order the Office to release the escrowed child support payments to him because Sonee would soon be living with him pursuant to the custody order.

         On August 25, 2016, a magistrate held a hearing on the Office's motion to intervene. Although the Office agreed with Brown that his on-going child support obligation should be terminated, the Office sought an order authorizing it to release the money it held in escrow, $5, 029.77, to the grandmother. The escrowed money was child support payments Brown had made from December 14, 2014, when the Office began holding Brown's child support payments in escrow, until August 2016, when Sonee began living with Brown. Brown argued that the grandmother was not entitled to the escrowed funds because it was offset by the Social Security death benefits around $1, 100 per month that she received on behalf of the children following Polly's death.

         The magistrate sympathized with the grandmother. However, the magistrate did not believe that she had the legal authority to release the escrowed funds to the grandmother, stating:

You know, Counsel, I agree with you that she was taking care of the children, but I have - there's no legal authority for me to give her that money. There's nothing, you know, ordering - and he does have a moral obligation to support. But he needs to do that on his own. There was no motion or no grant of support or even a change in payee was not entered in this case prior to recently. So I can't ...

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