Whether it’s a divorce or a dispute between unmarried parents, child support is one of the most critical ways that Maryland Family Courts have the power to ensure children get the care they need. It is one of those terms that gets used a lot, but not everyone understands the basics of child support. Some issues are more complex than others, and modification to a child support order can have a major impact on the child and the responsible adults.
What is Child Support?
Child support refers to the legal obligation of a parent to financially support their child. Child support is not the same as child custody, which is physical (where the child lives) and legal (decisions about the child’s health, education, and welfare). A parent can be required to pay child support even if they have neither legal nor physical custody of the child. While generally a payment to the adult with custody of the child, child support can also include requiring payments to third parties (e.g., daycare) or maintaining health insurance and other benefits with financial implications for the child.
Who is Entitled to Child Support?
Technically, the right to child support rests with the child, but as a practical matter, it is a payment that one parent receives from the other parent to cover the child’s living expenses. Any parent (or another adult) with physical custody of the child, whether partial or total, can seek child support from the other parent. Under Maryland law, child support is the right of any child until they turn 18, or if 18, until they graduate high school.
How is Child Support Calculated?
Maryland law has a complex set of factors to consider when calculating child support. It includes financial circumstances like the gross income from all sources of each party, the monthly expenses related to the child like health care, and other expenses of the parties like child support of another child. The amount of child support also depends on who has physical custody of the child and how much time, more specifically overnights, is spent with each child. In addition, alimony payments between the parents or received from another case will be considered. The goal is to keep the child to the style and quality of life they have been used to.
What Happens When Child Support Doesn’t Get Paid?
Child support is one of the most strictly enforced financial obligations that exist. A parent who fails to pay child support can have their wages garnished, their driver’s license suspended, or even be jailed for failure to pay. Unlike many other debts, a parent cannot get excused from paying child support by filing for bankruptcy. Child support payment obligations may stop mounting once the child turns 18, but back payments remain due until they are paid in full.
Is There Ever a Reason to Change Child Support?
The Maryland law for changes in child support is quite simple: if there has been a “material change,” then a child support order can be modified. A material change can be a change in circumstances of the paying parent, such as an increase in income or loss of a job, or it can be a change to the child that raises or lowers their monthly expenses. There does not even need to be a triggering event – the passage of time can be enough to change the expenses for the child. A paying or receiving parent can seek to have the order modified, and they can go through the court or the administrative office in Maryland that handles child support enforcement in their county.
Handling Child Support Modification Issues in Maryland
Like most states, Maryland prioritizes child support and makes obtaining, enforcing, and modifying orders relatively streamlined for the parent. The challenge often arises in understanding how to accumulate the correct information and present the most favorable position to the court or the administrative office. When a situation involves complex finances or a reluctant parent, it is worth working with an experienced family law attorney who knows what questions to ask and has access to forensic resources to make sure the true situation is revealed to the court.