1. Where should I file my complaint for child support?
You should file your complaint for child support in the state and in the county (including Baltimore City) that is the domicile of your child. A person only has one domicile. A child's domicile is the place of the child’s true, fixed and permanent home.
The court has continuing jurisdiction over the support of the child. The parties need not be married. A guardian or third party who has been granted custody of the child can also seek child support.
Read the Law: Md. Code, Family Law § 1-201
2. Is the action between the natural parents or is a third party involved?
- A third party may be involved if the child is cared for by a State agency or someone other than the biological parents.
- If the third party has an existing guardianship or custody order for the child, the third party may file a complaint for child support against the natural parents.
- If the third party does not have legal guardianship or custody of the child, the third party would need to file a petition with the court to legalize their relationship with the child and to ask for support.
3. Is there a dispute about paternity?
If there is a paternity dispute, the mother can go to the local child support enforcement agency, represent herself, or seek private counsel. Establishing paternity involves the rules for introducing evidence so it may be best to be represented by a lawyer – either through the government or a private attorney.
Paternity must be established before child support can be awarded.
Read the Law: Md. Code, Family Law § 5-1010
4. Is there an existing Custody/Visitation Order?
If there is no existing Custody/Visitation Order, then you may wish to file a Complaint for Custody along with child support. This can help because child support will be addressed by the court in the Custody case. While the parties may be friendly now, a Custody Order can help if the parties disagree later. If you do not wish to pursue custody or already have a custody order, go to #5.
5. Is there a current Child Support Order?
If Yes - Are the parties complying with the order?
If Yes- You must show a “material change in circumstances” to have the existing order changed.
Read the Law: Md. Code, Family Law § 12-104
A material change includes when a parent owing child support meets or no longer meets the following:
- lives with the child and is contributing to the child's support, OR
- is unemployed, has no financial resources to pay child support, and
- is incarcerated or expected to remain incarcerated for the remainder of the time that the parent has a legal duty to support the child,
- is institutionalized in a psychiatric care facility and is expected to remain institutionalized for the remainder of the time that the parent has a legal duty to support the child,
- is totally and permanently disabled, is unable to obtain or maintain employment, and has no income other than Supplemental Security Income or Social Security Disability Insurance benefits, or
- is unable to obtain or maintain employment in the foreseeable future due to compliance with criminal detainment, hospitalization, or rehabilitation treatment plan.
Read the law: Md. Code, Family Law § 12-202
What is a material change is up to the court. There may be other circumstances or situations that a court may consider as a material change. A court won’t change the order without a clearly indicated change in circumstances, needs, and financial condition of the parties.
No set percentage increase in expenses and income has been held to meet the "material change" requirement. However, the courts have often found that a greater than 25% difference is a material change. If there is a material change, then file Motion to Modify Child Support with a Financial Statement.
If there is a Child Support Enforcement Order issued, call the Child Support Enforcement Agency (CSEA) to determine if they are required to enforce the order. Sometimes CSEA will act as a collector/distributor.
If CSEA is required to enforce the order, ask that they do so. They may require you to do this in writing. Even if they don't require it to be in writing, it is best if you send them a letter. Keep copies of all letters that you send. Take notes on all your phone conversations. Be sure to include the date, time, and name of the person you spoke with.
6. What if a child support order has been issued?
If a Child Support Enforcement Order has been issued, file the following documents:
- Petition/Motion for Contempt
- Blank Show Cause Order
- Blank Earnings Withholding Order
You can get help from the Child Support Enforcement Administration even if you are not on Temporary Cash Assistance by paying $25.00 to the agency and asking them to assign a lawyer. The lawyer assigned to the case represents the Child Support Enforcement Agency and you.
Read the Law: Md. Code, Family Law § 10-115
You may also hire a private lawyer.
7. If no child support order Has been issued and the parties cannot agree to a set amount for child support, follow these steps.
Alternative #1: Child support services are available to all Maryland parents. A parent can ask for a Child Support Enforcement Agency attorney to be assigned to his/her case even if the parent is not on Temporary Cash Assistance by paying $25.00 to the agency and requesting assignment of an attorney. However, the government child support attorney does not represent any individual party. The role of the attorney is to represent the Agency to get a support obligation that is in the best interest of the child.
Alternative #2: File the complaint yourself and turn the Child Support Order over to the Child Support Enforcement Agency for collection.
Alternative #3: File the Complaint for Child Support yourself and attempt collection yourself through the courts after you receive a child support order.