SJC leaves child support guidelines in place, rejects appeal by fathers’ rights group

The Supreme Judicial Court today left intact child support guidelines adopted in 2009, rejecting a legal challenge brought by a fathers’ group whose members said they would be harmed by the new standards.

In a four-page ruling written by Justice Fernande R.V. Duffly, the court concluded that the legal tactic used by the father’s group cannot be used against the judiciary.

“We conclude that the declaratory judgment statute … prohibits any action for declaratory relief against the judicial department,’’ Duffly wrote.

The group, Fathers and Families Inc., did acknowledge in court papers that their appeal was technically flawed. However, they asked the SJC to address the policy question their lawsuit raised — that the Legislature, not the judiciary, should set guidelines for child support, which one parent pays to another after a divorce to help defray the costs of raising their children.

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“The New Guidelines were approved by an unconstitutional and illegal process, through formulation by a secret judicial committee, and by unilateral imposition of the Chief Justice for Administration and Management,’’ the fathers’ group wrote in their brief. “The application of the New Guidelines will extract large amounts of money from these plaintiffs in an unfair, inequitable and unequal manner. ‘’

The SJC refused to address the issue on a statewide basis.

Instead, the court said, “the plaintiffs will have an opportunity to raise their constitutional arguments when their cases are heard before the Probate and Family Court (or other trial court), and to pursue appellate remedies if they are dissatisfied with the outcomes of those cases.’’

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