Reading over the facts of the case, as presented in the Worcester Telegram article (see relevant parts quoted below), and at the huge risk of reading between the lines, I would say Mr. Fisher appears to have had his high child support order issued based on his income at the height of the computer engineering boom in Massachusetts in the late 90s, and right before the bust that followed. His apparent salary of $140,000 was typical back then for many computer engineers, many of whom shortly thereafter made significantly less for the same work, if they even had a job after much of their work was subsequently outsourced to China and India or was otherwise restructured.
Perhaps Mr. Fisher was like many of my clients from those years since the bust, clients who ended up having to take lesser paying jobs as computer engineers or even had to find other work entirely, and yet had to struggle with the fact that the family courts were slow to recognize the economic realities in the computer engineering industry. Many judges have been skeptical and used the "attribution" doctrine, which allows them to attribute income to child support obligors based on their deemed potential income rather than their actual current income. Some men (it was always men, in my experience) had income attributed to them based on prior earnings and have had a hard time trying to convince the courts later that their actual, current earning capacity was less than it had been.
As a result, many fathers have had to pay child support orders that are far in excess of that which would be justified based on their actual incomes, and as a result, after child support and taxes are paid, they were left with little or nothing on which to live.
I don't know if that is what happened in this case, but it does seem to fit the pattern. Of course, fortunately none of my clients has run away from his obligation in the way Mr. Fisher apparently has done. If the facts in this article are correct, at the very least it is clear that Mr. Fisher failed to pay anything at all for his children for many years. If true, that is wrong and he should be held accountable for that.
Now, whether he should be held on $500,000 cash bail (the kind of bail you would typically see set in the case of a very violent felon) is another story. It is interesting that in the recent case that led to criticism of a Massachusetts Superior Court judge, and former Governor Mitt Romney, who had appointed her to the bench, and the Worcester DA, in the handling of a case in which a violent felon was released on personal recognizance, after which he went to another state and allegedly carried out a double homicide, the Superior Court judge in that case had overturned a District Court's bail order, which had been set at only $50,000 each on the two separate cases, for a total of $100,000 cash bail.
So, let's see. We had $100,000 cash bail (then personal recognizance) for a man who had killed his own mother and then stood accused of assaulting two prison guards, on the one hand, and $500,000 cash bail for a person with no criminal record, but who owes child support, interest and penalties of slightly less than that amount. Admittedly, there is a risk of flight - one of the important considerations in a bail hearing - in this case, but surely $500,000 is excessive, no?
Let me be clear here. I think we need to continue to hold men, as we do, accountable for failure to pay child support. It is absolutely wrong not to support one's children. There are many men - and women - who are not adequately supporting their children right now, or are otherwise violating their court-ordered obligations, and we should do everything we can do to force them to fulfill their obligations as parents.
Those who have excessive child support orders should never run away, but instead should do their best, pay as much as they can in child support, and persist in trying to modify their child support in court. Eventually, most judges will adjust the child support once the true facts come out, if one aggressively pursues modification of support and the facts warrant a modification. It may not be easy but it can be done. There is never an excuse to run away from one's obligations to one's children.
For information and links related to Massachusetts child support, including a Massachusetts Child Support Guidlines calculator see my Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines Interactive Worksheet Page. For information about Massachusetts divorce and family law, see my family law page and for information about Massachusetts criminal law see my criminal law page.
Worcester Telegram & Gazette News, By Linda Bock: $500,000 bail for ‘deadbeat dad’:
"MILFORD— One of the state’s top “deadbeat dads” — who owes $493,912 in child support, interest and penalties — was recently deported from Canada, and was ordered held on $500,000 cash bail yesterday after he was charged with criminal nonsupport, according to state Department of Revenue officials and prosecutors.
David Fisher, 48, formerly of Hopkinton, appeared on the state’s 2002 Ten Most Wanted poster for failure to pay child support. He was sent back to Massachusetts by Canadian authorities three weeks ago and charged with abandoning his children without support, leaving the commonwealth without paying child support and failure to comply with a child support order. A not guilty plea was entered on his behalf at his arraignment yesterday morning in Milford District Court. Judge Robert B. Calagione continued his case to Jan. 28. Mr. Fisher was arraigned in the same Milford court in which criminal charges for failure to pay child support and a warrant for his arrest were issued against him on Dec. 2, 2002.
Mr. Fisher married his ex-wife on Aug. 16, 1980, and they lived in Hopkinton. She filed for divorce Nov. 24, 1999. According to prosecutors, Mr. Fisher agreed to pay $883 weekly child support; he earned $2,700 per week at the time. He owes $314,373 in child support, $119,692 in interest and $59,847 in penalties, according to the state Department of Revenue and prosecutors, and faces up to 10 years in jail.
According to DOR officials and prosecutors, Mr. Fisher, who was a computer programmer at the time, agreed Jan. 28, 2000, to pay $883 weekly in child support for his three children, who were 10, 16 and 17 at the time of the divorce. After a judge denied Mr. Fisher’s request to reduce child support payments, he was found guilty of contempt for violating the terms of the existing child support order. When Mr. Fisher and Ann Fisher divorced in June 2001, the order to pay $883 weekly child support was part of the settlement.
Ms. Cunnally said Ms. Fisher was forced to sell the family home in Hopkinton after the divorce. The uprooted family moved to Upton and the three children had to change schools at the time.
DOR received the last child support payment from Mr. Fisher’s employer in Missouri on April 17, 2001. He worked for Helzberg Diamonds, a diamond retail company in Kansas City, Mo., according to Ms. Cunnally, and made $75,000 per year. DOR garnished a couple of thousand dollars in attached wages before he left the country.
Sometime after, he fled to Canada with his girlfriend. Mr. Fisher subsequently appeared on the state DOR’s “Ten Most Wanted” poster on Nov. 14, 2001.
Mr. Fisher allegedly married his Canadian girlfriend, according to officials, and does not have other children officials are aware of. State officials know that he worked at Quigley’s Restaurant in Toronto for a period of time. On Sept. 23, 2003, the DOR received an anonymous tip that Mr. Fisher was in Toronto.