Parenthood, as every parent quickly learns, carries many responsibilities. One of these is the obligation to support your children financially. As a parent, you are committed to providing your children a stable, safe place to live and the material things and services they need to grow and thrive. This responsibility continues even after parents move into different households or divorce. Accordingly, the law allows either party to request a formal order for child support.
A child support order specifies the monthly amount of money one parent pays to another (or in some cases, to a third party) to meet the child’s ongoing living expenses. Both parents remain obligated to financially support a minor child.
Parents may, and often do, reach agreement relating to the issue of child support. However, because the law requires that a child’s best interests must always be paramount, the court must approve a child support settlement, even when the terms are agreed upon by the parties. Similarly, parents cannot agree to waive child support because that is an obligation they owe for the benefit of the child, rather than to the other parent. Conversely, if parents cannot agree to a child support amount, the court will calculate an award after a trial, considering child support guidelines established by law.
In Maryland, with limited exceptions, courts must follow the specific child support guidelines to determine the amount of monthly child support if the family’s combined annual income is less than $180,000. (The calculation of child support when a family’s combined annual income exceeds $180,000 is much more complex.) In utilizing this formula, the child support guidelines take into account numerous factors, including:
A Maryland child support order may also specify the division of payment for school tuition and expenses, childcare costs, health insurance, and medical expenses. In limited circumstances, when justice demands, a judge may order that child support deviate from the amount dictated by the guidelines.
Maryland law presumes that a child born during the marriage is the legal child of the married couple. When a child has been born to an unmarried couple, paternity must be legally established by a voluntary declaration on the father’s part, or through genetic testing. After paternity is established, an order for child support can be entered.
Depending upon the age of the child or children when an order is entered, a child support order may continue for a significant period of time. There may be changes in the family’s circumstances during that time that make the original child support order no longer appropriate.
When requested by either parent, a court may modify a child support order if there has been a “material change in circumstances” related to the needs of the child or children that has occurred since the time of the child support order. Material changes in circumstances may include a significant increase or decrease in the income of a parent, changes in the allocation of parenting time, or substantial changes in the costs of raising a child. Because life changes, families need the flexibility to modify child support. However, predictability and stability are important, too, so modification is only available for material changes in circumstances rather than minor ones. An important consideration in child support modification cases is that a court may not order child support modified retroactively to a date before the parent files a formal request for modification.
When a parent fails to meet a child support obligation, the other parent (or, under certain circumstances, a government agency) may have to protect the child’s interests by asking the court to enforce the existing child support order. Sometimes the non-payment of child support can be justified, such as when the payor loses a job and needs to ask the court to modify the support amount. Other times, non-payment of child support is unjustified, such as when a parent withholds support because they feel they have not been given enough time with the child. Whether you are seeking to enforce a child support order or defend against a claim of non-payment, the assistance of an experienced Maryland child support attorney is essential to present to the court the evidence that most strongly supports your position.
Sometimes issues arise in the context of child support that make simple application of the guidelines difficult or problematic. Examples include parents with incomes significantly above the combined income ceiling in the guidelines (presently $180,000 per year); difficulty determining a parent’s income for child support purposes, especially for the self-employed or small business owners; parents living in different states or countries; children residing with the parents according to different schedules; adult disabled children; or unusual and significant expenses required for a child’s well-being. These circumstances are beyond the scope of a general discussion and warrant the involvement of experienced lawyers.
As a parent, you are dedicated to meeting your child’s financial needs as well as your own. At Strickler, Platnick & Hatfield, we are equally committed to preserving your financial well-being while you do your best to support your child. We have decades of experience in Maryland family law, including initial child support determinations, modifications, complex child support issues, and enforcement actions. Child support negotiations and disputes are fact-based, and we present the facts in the best way to achieve an outcome favorable to our clients.
Our experience includes working both with recipients and with payors, of child support, and our skill gives us the insight needed to advocate effectively in the most challenging circumstances.
We invite you to contact Strickler, Platnick & Hatfield to schedule a consultation to discuss your individual situation and learn how we can help you with your child support concerns.