Under Maryland law, each parent has a duty to support his or her minor child. The Maryland courts calculate child support based on a formula, known as the Child Support Guidelines. The Guidelines estimate the percentage of income the parents would spend on their child if they were living together. The amount of child support owed by each parent pursuant to the Guidelines depends on several factors, including their income and the number of nights the minor child sleeps at each parent’s house. The Guidelines also consider certain expenses paid by each parent.
For many cases, the calculation of child support is relatively straightforward. But for other cases, determining a parent’s income can be a complex task, particularly if the parent is self-employed or has voluntarily reduced his income. At Brown, Goldstein & Levy, our family law attorneys utilize various means to uncover a parent’s true income. It is important to have a skilled attorney to ensure the appropriate child support amount is received or paid.
Calculating Child Support
The Maryland Child Support Guidelines look to several factors to come up with each parent’s child support obligation. One obvious factor is each parent’s actual monthly income. Typically, actual monthly income includes the parent’s salary or wages, but can also include overtime pay, bonuses, Social Security benefits, workers’ compensation benefits, and alimony. Another factor the Guidelines consider is work-related childcare expenses, meaning the costs of daycare or before and aftercare while one parent is at work. Additionally, the Guidelines take health insurance and extraordinary medical expenses into account. Extraordinary medical costs may include expenses not covered by insurance, such as the child’s orthodontia, dental treatments, physical therapy, or mental health counseling.
In cases where one parent can work but chooses not to work or chooses to work for a lower income than previous experience demonstrates they can earn, you can ask the court to impute income to that parent. The court must find that the parent is voluntarily impoverished. Factors that a court considers in determining voluntary impoverishment can include the parent’s physical health, level of education, previous work history, and efforts to find employment.
Convincing a court to set child support at a lower or higher amount than the Guidelines recommend can be difficult. In either case, the court must always consider the best interests of the child. To convince the court to award a lower amount, a parent must demonstrate that use of the Guidelines would be unjust or inappropriate. For example, the court may agree to temporarily award a reduced child support amount to allow the non-custodial parent additional time to complete job or educational training to obtain a more stable or higher income. On the other hand, when the parents’ combined income exceeds a certain amount, the court is not required to follow the Guidelines. Instead, the court has discretion to set child support based on the needs of the minor child. This deviation is often seen in matters involving parents with extremely high incomes, such as professional athletes, where relying on the Guidelines would result in a windfall for the other parent.
Enforcement of Child Support
If a parent is not making timely or complete child support payments, there are a number of steps you may take to enforce a child support order. You could ask the court to enter an Earnings Withholding Order instructing an employer to make direct payments to you from the wages of the other parent. In the alternative, you could ask the court that the other parent be found in contempt. There are numerous remedies available to the court, including incarceration, to encourage the parent in contempt to purge him or herself.
Modification of Child Support
To modify a child support order, a parent must file a complaint to increase or decrease child support with the court. Often, parents with an amicable relationship verbally agree to modify the amount of a child support payment rather than seeking assistance from the court. However, such verbal agreements are unenforceable and can create issues in the future if the parent, who is receiving the child support, later decides that the informally agreed upon payments were insufficient and pursues an action for back child support.
Any court request for modification of child support must show that there has been a material change in circumstances since the entry of the original child support order that warrants a change. A material change may exist, for example, when the paying parent has a large increase or decrease in income or when the child’s needs change, such as if the child becomes disabled.
If you have experienced a material change in circumstances that would allow you to amend a current child support order or if you need to file a new child support case, our family law attorneys at Brown, Goldstein & Levy are here to help.