Calculating Child Support
Topics on this page
- Child Support Generally
- What information does the court need to calculate child support?
- What are "imputed income" and "voluntary impoverishment"?
- How does the court calculate child support?
- Child Support Calculator
- Can child support be lower than the Guidelines amount?
- Can child support be higher than the Guidelines amount?
- Can I avoid paying child support if I am already taking care of my kids?
Child Support Generally
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).
Cases filed on or after October 1, 2020 - For cases filed on or after October 1, 2020, "shared physical custody" means a parent keep the child or children overnight for more than 25% of the year. For situations where a parent keeps a child or children overnight for more than 25%, but less than 30% of the year, there are specific formulas based on the percentage.
Read the law: Md. Code, Family Law Title 12, Subtitle 2
Read the rule: Md. Rules, Title 9, Chapter 200
Read the case: Rose v. Rose, 236 Md.App 117 (Court of Special Appeals 2018)
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 counseling.
- 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 form is available on the court's website.
The court may need to know other facts 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 to calculate the correct amount of child support.
Read the law: Md. Code, Family Law § 12-202, § 12-204
Read the rule: Md. Rules 9-202, 9-203, and 9-206
What are "imputed income" and "voluntary impoverishment"?
A parent cannot avoid child support obligations by not making enough money on purpose. This is called voluntary impoverishment, which is the parent’s free and conscious choice, not compelled by factors beyond the parent's control, to be without adequate resources (not enough money). If the court finds a parent owing child support has “voluntarily impoverished” themselves, the court may “impute income” to the parent. This means that the court will act as if the parent has an income when determining the child support payment.
To decide whether to “impute” income to the parent, and how much, the court will look at several factors, including but not limited to:
- the parent's age, physical and behavioral condition, educational level, special training or skills, literacy, residence, occupational qualifications and skills, employment and earnings history, record of efforts to obtain and retain employment, and criminal record and other employer barriers,
- employment opportunities in the parent's community, including the status of the job market, prevailing earning levels, and the availability of employers willing to hire the parent;
- the parent's assets;
- the parent's actual income from all sources; and
- any other factor that impacts the parent's ability to obtain funds for child support.
Note that there can be exceptions.
Read the law: Md. Code, Family Law § 12-201, § 12-204(b)
Read the case: St. Cyr v. St. Cyr, 228 Md.App. 163 (Court of Special Appeals, 2016)
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 as well as factor in the "self-support reserve," which is an adjustment ensuring that the parent paying child support maintains a minimum amount of monthly income, after payment of child support and certain taxes, of at least 100% of the 2019 Federal poverty level for an individual.. 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
Read the rule: Md. Rule 9-206
Child Support Calculator
The Department of Human Services has a child support calculator that you can use to estimate the amount of child support in your case.
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.
Read the law: Md. Code, Family Law § 12-202
Can child support be higher than the Guidelines amount?
If the combined amount of both parents' incomes is higher than $30,000 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.
Read the law: Md. Code, Family Law § 12-204
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.
Read the case: Stambaugh v. Child Support Enforcement Administration, 323 Md. 106 (Court of Appeals 1991)
Can the court decline to establish a child support order?
A court may decline to establish a child support order if the parent who would have the obligation to pay child support:
- 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 § 12-204