No matter the circumstances, divorce brings with it a host of challenges and difficult decisions to make, especially when the couple going through a divorce are parents.
With these decisions, the couple has to address quite a few important questions and deal with quite a few logistics. Who will pay for the child’s medical bills? Who is responsible for making decisions that pertain to the child’s social and financial wellbeing?
Maryland law sets all kinds of child support guidelines for evaluating child support on a case-by-case basis, whether the parents were previously married or not, so that the proper care of each child is accurately addressed.
Here’s a general guide to child support in the state of Maryland.
What Is Child Support?
In Maryland, both parents have a legal obligation to support their child based on their ability to provide that support. During a marriage, committed relationship or cohabitation, child support is usually not a concern for the court. When parents end their relationship or cease living together, either party can involve the court to request child support.
These decisions frequently are based on the custodial and non-custodial parents.
- The custodial parent is the parent who primarily resides with the child.
- The non-custodial parent does not primarily reside with the child but may have visitation
Custodial Laws in Maryland
Custody laws in Maryland are broken down into two distinct categories: legal and physical custody.
- Legal custody refers to any decision making regarding the child’s education, non-emergency medical care, religious affiliation and other matters that are critical to the wellbeing of the child.
- Physical custody is where the child resides on a daily basis.
Usually, child support is paid to the parent who has primary physical custody of the child. There are several other kinds of custody as well:
- Sole custody
- Split custody
- Joint custody
- Joint legal custody
In each of these scenarios, child support may look vastly different. You can read more about these types of custody here. If you have questions about how custody affects your child support order, contact us for a consultation today.
About Child Support
Since 1990, Maryland has had guidelines in place to provide a formula to calculate child support based on a proportion of each parent’s gross income. The court often decides how much support the non-custodial parent will pay to help provide for the children.
For more information on custodial rights and more, please see our child custody page.
Child Support Law in Maryland
Maryland has established a precedent for determining each parent’s financial responsibility to care for their children. Since both parents are obligated to support their child until they turn 18 years of age, or until they turn 19 if they have not yet graduated high school, child support laws exist to help parents who have separated reach an agreement. If they cannot reach an agreement on their own, this responsibility falls to the court.
Monetary support for children is provided by both the custodial and non-custodial parents. When child support is awarded, one parent provides a set amount of money each month to the other parent to pay for the child’s care.
A judge will examine each parent’s individual financial situations, including their grossl monthly income. Using these guidelines, the court attempts to determine the appropriate amount that each parent would spend on their children if they were living together. The final calculation is based on guidelines for child support in Maryland.
For more information about caring for your children during a divorce, read our article on child custody and visitation rights in Maryland.
How Does the Court Decide?
Child support law in Maryland requires judges to examine each parent’s gross income, the division of custody, and the children’s financial needs, including childcare, health insurance and potentially other extraordinary medical costs for a child. A calculation that takes all these factors and legal guidelines into account determines the amount of child support.
Gross monthly income includes your salary and wages as well as other income sources. Consideration of your gross monthly income automatically excludes any income you receive from public assistance programs such as food stamps or Supplemental Security. A parent’s adjusted actual income is their monthly income after child support and alimony that the parent already pays for other children have been deducted.
Necessities of life and other living expenses also are taken into consideration by the court. This does not mean, though, that the court will reduce child support payments for discretionary obligations such as an expensive car or charitable donations at the expense of providing for their own children.
A judge also may take into account a variety of other factors, including:
- Work-related child expenses such as daycare or aftercare.
- Health insurance expenses for the child.
- Additional (or extraordinary) medical expenses that are not normally covered by insurance, such as dental work, physical therapy, counseling or asthma treatments.
Additionally, each parent who asks for child support is required to submit a financial statement to the court, which is signed under penalty of perjury, disclosing all income sources and the nature and extent of their property holdings like bank accounts, investments, real property and financial obligations. This statement helps the judge make a fair and informed decision about what is best for all the children who are involved.
If you are requesting child support, it is critical that you speak with an attorney and submit a full, honest statement of your financial situation to avoid any issues.
Sometimes child support hearings can become adversarial. Tensions can run high when finances and the best interests of involved children must be decided when a relationship is ending. This sometimes can involve cross examination on other issues that are relevant to the support issue, which is why a family law attorney can be incredibly helpful in advocating for everyone’s interests.
At this court hearing, both parents can subpoena documents, call witnesses to support their position and help determine the amount of child support that should be paid. These child support orders can be appealed, but the success of these appeals is infrequent.
The system described above is merely a guideline. There also are worksheets available to calculate costs of child support and to help determine a final figure.
If the parents’ combined income is substantial, courts sometimes fix child support payments above the guideline requirements to serve the children’s needs. The court also is able to set child support at a lower amount if the parent can prove that the standard amount is unfair.
Modifying Child Support Needs
After an initial child support order is filed, it may need to be modified to adjust to changes in income, new or changing medical needs for a child’s illness, or other life events that can change the physical and financial circumstances for all parties involved. When this happens, you can petition the court for a child support modification.
What are some reasons that a parent may file for a modification to a child support order?
- If one parent’s income has changed (either increased or decreased) by 25 percent or more. You also can request a modification if your income has changed by a lesser amount.
- If a child’s needs changed. An example of this would be if they become sick or disabled.
- A child grows older, and financial needs change and evolve.
- If the parent in custody gets a significant raise or otherwise has increased ability to support the child.
- If the paying parent loses their job, they can ask for a temporary decrease in support payments while they are out of work.
- If the paying parent becomes disabled or goes to prison.
When it comes to establishing or modifying child support, having the help of a Maryland family law attorney to advocate for your needs and the needs of your child is a good idea. Likewise, this is far better than a verbal confirmation or verbal agreement between parents. Why? Let’s take a look at a cautionary example:
A paying non-custodial parent is laid off from their job, and they ask the custodial parent if they can decrease their monthly child support payments from $400 per month to $100. They remain unemployed for 10 months.
At the end of these 10 months, the paying parent gets their job back. They start paying $400 monthly per the verbal agreement between the parents. The custodial parent asks for $3,000 in back payments now that the paying parent is working again. The paying parent states that they do not owe this money per the verbal agreement between the parents, and the dispute goes to court.
In court, a judge rules that the paying parent does indeed owe $3,000 in back payments because their $100 monthly payments during the time they were unemployed were not part of an official child support order. The paying parent is then ordered by the judge to pay an extra $100 each month, making their child support payments $500 per month until the $3,000 is paid off.
The best thing to do is to file a motion for a modification with the court so that the child support order matches what both parents have agreed to. The problem with verbal agreements is that they are often vague in a way that the parents don’t realize at the time. Having a family law attorney help file a modification request will ensure that all parties are on the same page and eliminate confusion and conflict down the road.
In some instances, a parent may try to avoid their child support obligation by purposefully not making enough money. This is called “voluntary impoverishment.” A parent’s choice to have inadequate resources to pay child support may not have to be directly related to wanting to avoid paying child support. This also can be for other reasons. The court can determine that a parent has voluntarily impoverished themselves, and they can impute income to the parent. This means that the court will act as though the paying parent has an income when determining child support payment.
When they decide to impute the parent’s income, the court will examine their physical condition, level of education, the timing of employment changes, the relationship between the involved parties, the parent’s efforts to find a job or find training, past work history, and more. Maryland courts do not consider a parent being imprisoned to be voluntary impoverishment unless the parent committed the crime intending to avoid paying child support.
Child support can be very complicated, and in order for everyone to get the best outcome, having a lawyer who is well versed in Maryland child support law, someone who knows the precedent, is crucial.
Child Support Means More Than Just a Monthly Check
The child support decree in Maryland is not limited to direct monthly payments to the custodial parent. Child support orders often include other needs the child has to ensure their overall wellbeing. This can include the following kinds of support:
- Support from either parent to maintain their child as a beneficiary on the parent’s health and life insurance policies available through the parent’s employment
- Ordered payment for one-half of all uninsured medical, dental and ophthalmologic services provided for the child(ren)
- An arrangement for additional child support for the parent to directly pay to the school a portion or all of the child’s school tuition, private school costs, music lessons, morning care, aftercare, preschool or other educational institutions
- Additional child support in the form of reasonable transportation costs (e.g., airfare) for the children for visitations as provided in the visitation provisions of the order
Child support fees may be reduced during periods of parental visitation.
Child support orders are very flexible and can include lots of different kinds of provisions to provide the best care for each child. The court works to make choices to create a supporting arrangement that will be the best for the children, working to maintain the lifestyle the children enjoyed before the divorce as long as the parents’ finances permit. A parent can be ordered to pay (or partially pay) for many different aspects of a child’s day-to-day life.
The amount of support also may be reduced if the non-custodial parent has physical custody of the children for at least 35 percent of the time.
How Can a Family Law Attorney Help?
Determining and modifying child support can seem nearly impossible. After all, parents can feel defensive when it comes to establishing the best line of care for their children, and when a divorce or the end of a relationship is involved, it compounds these feelings.
Additionally, Maryland child support law can be incredibly intricate and confusing. Without proper representation, things can get tense very quickly, which can affect the relationship between the parents and have lasting effects on the children involved too.
An attorney who is well versed in Maryland child support law can advocate for your needs and the needs of your children in and out of court. If you are feeling lost or don’t know what steps to take to adequately care for your children and yourself in the event of a child support dispute, an experienced attorney can provide legal advice and guide you through the process without the headache of trying to interpret the law or represent yourself.
Take a Look at These Maryland Family and Child Support Law Resources:
- Divorce and Your Legal Rights in Maryland
- Overview of Divorce in Maryland
- Maryland Division of Property
- Alimony in Maryland
- Maryland Child Custody
- Getting a Maryland Protective Order
- Maryland Divorce and Family Law Attorneys
- FREE Case Evaluation (Online Request Form)
- Free case evaluation by phone: (410) 753-4611
Frequently Asked Questions About Child Support Law in Maryland
Just like every family is unique, every child support case is unique too. If you have specific questions about your situation, please reach out to us to receive a free evaluation regarding your case. Here are a few commonly asked questions about how child support decisions are made in Maryland.
Q: Who is eligible for child support services?
Any custodian of a minor child is eligible for child support. This includes parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents, court-appointed guardians, or others who are caring for a child.
Q. Is child support tax-deductible?
If you make child support payments, you cannot deduct your payments from your income when filing your taxes. Likewise, if you receive child support payments, you do not include those payments as income when you file your taxes. This is the case for both federal income tax and Maryland income tax.
Q. What if I do not know where the other parent is?
If the location of the noncustodial parent is unknown, the child support enforcement office will conduct a search on the custodial parent’s behalf. The enforcement office requires as much information about the other parent as possible to find the non-custodial parent. This can be very difficult (but not impossible) under the following circumstances:
- The non-custodial parent lives out of state
- The non-custodial parent is not working
- They are self-employed
- The other parent works under an assumed name or uses multiple social security numbers
- The non-custodial parent changes jobs often
- The non-custodial parent works for cash or is paid under the table.
Regardless of the situation, the child support specialist will do their best to locate the non-custodial parent by checking federal, state, and local sources to find the mailing address, employment, or assets of the non-custodial parent.
Q. How do you figure out the amount of child support to be paid?
The state of Maryland uses an income share model to determine the amount of child support the non-custodial parent will pay. Both parents’ incomes are used to calculate the amount of child support under Maryland law. This model also takes into account other costs like health insurance, current child support being paid for other children, alimony being paid and received, the cost of daycare, extraordinary medical costs for the children, and school and transportation costs for the children.
Also figured into the child support payment totals are the incomes of both parents, the number of children, and the specific expenses related to caring for those specific children. Because of this, it is very unlikely that two people -even with the same number of children- will have the same child support payments.
Q. How are child support payments collected?
Maryland law requires all child support payments to be made by wage attachment, which means the funds are collected by income withholding from each paycheck. The non-custodial parents’ employer receives the child support order, and once they receive the wage lien, they start taking deductions with the next paycheck. Until the non-custodial parent has received a paycheck that shows that the employer has started deducting child support payment, the parent is responsible for sending support payments to the Maryland Child Support Account.
Payments in the form of a check or money order should be sent to the Maryland Child Support Account, P.O. Box 17396, Baltimore, Maryland 21297-1396. Each payment should also include the 9-digit case number on all payments.
Q. Can someone other than the court order child support?
In Maryland, only the proper court can order child support. This court must have personal jurisdiction over the parent, which means they must have some kind of connection with the state of Maryland. Any other court does not have proper jurisdiction and so they do not have the legal authority to order child support.
There is one stipulation to this though. Once a valid child support order has been entered, the state continues to have the power to award child support, even if the supporting parent or children no longer have a connection with the state of Maryland.
Q. Do I need a lawyer for my child support hearings?
While you can choose to represent yourself, child support involves all kinds of intricacies that require attention to detail. Should your hearing move to a court case, your attorney will be able to represent your needs and the best interests of your children and will know how to advocate for those needs in an appropriate and productive way.
If You Have Questions About Child Support in Maryland, We Have the Answers
Without proper, careful representation, child support orders and negotiations can be needlessly stressful. At Zirkin & Schmerling Law, we know you have your children’s interests at heart, and we work closely with you to achieve the best possible outcome for everyone involved.
If you’d like to learn more about child support law in Maryland or want an attorney’s help with your child support needs, please contact the experienced family law attorneys at Zirkin & Schmerling Law at 410-753-4611.