Murphy-Schaeffer child support dispute settled Mother is released from payments

November 17, 1996|By Jackie Powder | Jackie Powder,SUN STAFF

In the past four years, Kathleen M. Murphy has become an outspoken advocate for the establishment of a statewide family court system. It was her drawn-out divorce and child support case that sparked her activism. And it is that same case that has brought her efforts to an end.

In exchange for Murphy's silence on matters relating to their legal battles, her former husband, Lloyd N. Schaeffer, agreed Friday to release Murphy from her responsibility to make monthly child support payments for their son.

The settlement, ordered by Carroll Circuit Judge Raymond E. Beck on Friday, ends the public legal battles between Murphy and Schaeffer that have continued since their October 1992 divorce. It prevents both parties from speaking to the media about their case.

Murphy, 43, who has publicly discussed the details of her divorce case to argue for court reform in the handling of domestic cases, said Thursday that she had reluctantly decided to agree to the settlement.

The alternative, she said, was a possible jail sentence for nonpayment of child support.

"I'm devastated that I can't talk about all the work I've done," Murphy said Thursday. "But I'll never be able to get caught up on the child support. I'm broke."

Schaeffer declined to comment on the case after Friday's hearing.

Murphy testified before the General Assembly this year in support of legislation to establish a statewide family court, and in 1994 Murphy founded the Get Results with Effective Action Now! Family Law Action Group (Green Flag).

"If people don't speak up, nothing will ever change," she said.

As part of Murphy's divorce from Schaeffer, a former Westminster lumber company executive, Beck gave him custody of the couple's son, allowed him exclusive use of the family home and ordered Murphy to pay $315 in monthly child support. The amount was later reduced to $247 a month.

At the time, Murphy was working as a $7-an-hour bank teller, a job she still holds.

Murphy said she was able to pay approximately $5,000 in back child support in November 1995 after the sale of the home she had owned with Schaeffer.

Since that time, Murphy said she has managed to contribute $10 a month toward her child support payments. She said that Beck found her in contempt of court in March for failure to pay child support and imposed a suspended seven-day jail sentence.

"This kind of case is the reason why we need a family court in Maryland," Murphy said.

Barbara A. Babb, an assistant professor at the University of Baltimore School of Law and a leader of the movement to create a family court in Maryland, said that although Murphy's case has been more public than most divorces, it typifies some of the legal problems present in many other divorce cases.

"Her case is an example of why, procedurally, things need to move more quickly in family law cases," Babb said.

In its 1996 session, the General Assembly approved the creation of a Family Division in Baltimore City Circuit Court, which began in September. Babb said legislation will probably be introduced in the 1997 session to create a statewide family division.

"I'm not trying to promote myself or my family," Murphy said. "I don't want another woman to go through this."

Pub Date: 11/17/96

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