Maryland uses a formula to calculate child support. This formula is called the Child Support Guidelines. The court will usually order child support based on the guidelines unless someone can show that the guidelines would be unjust and inappropriate in a particular case.
In general, the parent who has primary physical custody of the children (the custodial parent) is the person who will receive child support. The parent who does not have primary physical custody of the children (the non-custodial parent) is the person who will pay child support. This can change depending on the income of each parent. It can also change if the parents share physical custody of the children. "Shared physical custody" means each parent keeps the children overnight for more than 35% of the year (127 overnights).
What information does the court need to calculate child support?
The guidelines look at several factors to come up with an amount of child support. The most important factors are:
- Each parent's "actual monthly income." For most people, actual income includes salary or wages, but it can also include things like bonuses, Social Security benefits, workers' compensation benefits, alimony and other types of income. Actual income does not include temporary cash assistance, food stamps, Supplemental Security Income, and others benefits from means-tested public assistance programs.
- Each parent's "adjusted actual income." Adjusted actual income is the actual income minus any pre-existing child support that the parent actually pays for another child and alimony that the parent actually pays.
- Work-related child care expenses. This can include costs for daycare or before and after care while a parent is at work.
- Health insurance expenses.
- Extraordinary medical expenses. This includes reasonable expenses that are not covered by insurance, such as orthodontia, dental treatment, asthma treatment, physical therapy or psychological counselling.
- A financial statement. If you are asking for child support, you need to submit a financial statement to the court. It is important that you fill out the financial statement completely and honestly. You could be charged with perjury if you lie on the form. The purpose of the form is to help the court make a fair decision to help your children. The financial statement is available on the court's website. Financial Statement, short form.
There may be other facts the court needs to know to decide the amount of child support. You may want to talk to a lawyer or someone from the Office of Child Support Enforcement about other information you might need in order to calculate the correct amount of child support.
What are "imputed income" and "voluntary impoverishment"?
If one parent could work but chooses not to, the court can still treat that parent as having income. This is called "imputing" income. In order to impute income, the court has to find that the parent is "voluntarily impoverished," which means that the person can work but chooses not to. Proving that the other parent is voluntarily impoverished may include showing the other parent's physical health, level of education, work history, ability to earn money, and efforts to find a job.
How does the court calculate child support?
The Child Support Guidelines try to estimate the percentage of income that parents would spend on children if the parents were living together. The Guidelines use the following steps to calculate the amount of child support:
- Figure out each parent's actual income.
- Figure out each parent's adjusted actual income or imputed income.
- Add up both parents' adjusted actual incomes or their imputed incomes. The combined amount is plugged into the Guidelines chart to determine the "basic child support obligation."
- Factor in some additional expenses, including health insurance costs, daycare costs and extraordinary medical expenses. This generates the "total child support obligation."
- The non-custodial parent is responsible for paying a percentage of the total child support obligation.
Read the Law: MD Code Family Law §12–201
The Department of Human Resources has a child support calculator that you can use to estimate the amount of child support in your case. DHR Child Support Calculator.
Can child support be lower than the Guidelines amount?
It is hard to get the court to set child support at a lower amount than the Guidelines. To ask the court to order a lower amount, you must show why the Guidelines amount is unjust or unfair to you and why it would be in your children's best interest to lower the amount. The court will consider all the factors and determine if the Guidelines amount is unjust or unfair. For example, a non-custodial parent may need to lower the amount of support to allow more time to get training or education for a more stable income. However, any decision the court makes to lower the amount of child support must be in the best interests of the children.
Can child support be higher than the Guidelines amount?
If the combined amount of both parents' incomes is higher than $15,000 per month, then the court does not need to use the Guidelines formula. Instead, the court can set the amount of child support based on the needs of the children.
Can I avoid paying child support if I am already taking care of my kids?
Parents cannot agree to not support their children. The General Assembly decided that "the law and policy of this State is that the child's best interest is of paramount importance and cannot be altered by the parties. A parent has a legal obligation to provide support for the child [in proportion to their gross earnings]."
There are many other factors which the court can consider in determining child support. You may want to talk to a lawyer or someone from the Office of Child Support Enforcement for more information or if you have other questions.