Parents in Maryland are financially responsible for their children until they reach the reach the age of majority, which is 18 or if they are 18 and still in high school, until graduation. Both parents are expected to contribute to their children’s health, education, and maintenance. These responsibilities exist whether the parents are married to one another, separated, divorced, or remarried. The obligation continues regardless of the parent-child relationship, physical or legal custody, or the existence of other adults caring for the child. When the parents no longer live together, the law requires that there is equitable contribution by each. When the parties agree or the court order a non-custodial parent to make payments to the custodial parent, we have something that is commonly referred to as “Child Support.”
Who is Responsible for Child Support in Maryland?
It may seem obvious, but it is worth noting that only the legal parents of a child are responsible for child support. No other parties have an automatic obligation to pay child support. But what happens when things are not so straight forward? The law presumes that if a married woman gives birth, the child is that of her husband. But what if he, in fact, is not the biological father? Similarly, what happens when a non-married woman gives birth, but there is uncertainty as to who is the father? In these situations, one party or the other may want certainty. The court system has established non-invasive procedures for testing the parents and child’s DNA to determine paternity with close to 100% accuracy. It is recommended that whenever there is uncertainty, paternity tests should be employed. Once paternity is “established,” legal and financial obligations and rights are created that are extremely difficult to modify. When these questions arise, Maryland law places various burdens on the adult seeking child support on behalf of a child as well as on the alleged parent to prove or disprove parentage before the child support obligation is found.
How is the Amount of Child Support Decided in Maryland?
Child support obligations in Maryland are determined by employing the Maryland Child Support Guidelines. While parents can reach their agreements about child support since this is a right that belongs to the child, these private agreements must comply with the law. The court needs to approve child support amounts whenever child support is part of a court order. If the child support amount is not consistent with the Child Support Guidelines, the court must determine if the amount is still in the best interest of the child. If the parents’ combined household income is above $15,000 per month, then the application of the Child Support Guidelines can be used, but may not be if the court determines that an unjust result may occur. Effective in July of 2022, the $15,000 will be increased to $30,000. The child support guidelines are a complex set of calculations set out how to calculate how much child support must be paid. The factors include a complex combination of the parents’ income, the amount of time the child stays overnight with each parent, which parent pays health insurance, work related child care expenses incurred, the child’s unique special needs, the number of minor children, and additional factors.
Are There Resources to Obtain Child Support?
Maryland and federal law both have important protections for a child to obtain support from their parent. For example, a parent cannot file for bankruptcy to get their child support obligations forgiven like other kinds of debt. In addition, there are mechanisms for garnishing wages, foreclosing on or repossessing property, and otherwise forcing a parent to meet their obligations. On the other hand, a parent whose financial circumstances change does have the ability to seek a modification of a child support order to an amount that they can afford.
Working With A Lawyer on Child Support Issues
Without experience, navigating child support laws in Maryland can be confusing and result in an unfair outcome. Working with an experienced attorney can help with critical aspects of child support, including
- initiating a child support claim
- obtaining, reviewing, or revising an existing child support order
- understanding how to comply with child support guidelines
- obtaining court approval of a child support agreement
- establishing a change in financial circumstances
Rather than attempt to manage these complex issues on their own, parents should consider working with an experienced family law attorney who can help them understand their rights and obligations and those of the children and the other parent.