Child Support Enforcement in Maryland

Learn how child support is enforced and collected in Maryland.

By , J.D., University of Minnesota School of Law
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With many disputes about child support, one parent typically feels the amount set is too low and the other maintains it's too high. Sometimes, as a result of these disputes, child support falls by the wayside and children suffer the financial consequences.

This article will explain how child support orders are enforced in the State of Maryland. If you have any questions about child support enforcement after you read this article, you should contact a family law attorney for advice.

Child Support Overview

After a divorce or separation, both parents are expected to provide basic financial support for things like food, housing, and clothing. They're also responsible for medical expenses like health insurance premiums.

The parent who has physical custody (meaning, the parent who cares for the children more frequently) spends a greater percentage of time with the children. That parent pays for more of the children's needs simply because they're together more often. The other parent (called the "non-custodial parent"), spends less time with the children and has to make regularly scheduled child support payments to ensure that each parent is paying a fair share.

For purposes of this article, the parent who receives child support is known as the "receiving parent," while the parent who has to pay is called "the paying parent." In Maryland, child support orders are determined according to each parent's adjusted actual income and a mathematical formula known as the child support guidelines. Learn more about Child Support in Maryland.

When a paying parent fails to make court-ordered child support payments on time, a receiving parent may need assistance enforcing and collecting payments. Some of the Maryland enforcement options are discussed below.

Enforcing Child Support

The Maryland Child Support Enforcement Administration (CSEA) enforces state and federal laws regarding child support. CSEA performs a number of critical child support functions. It uses an administrative (non-judicial) process to; establish paternity of children born to unmarried couples, establish and modify child and medical support obligations, and enforce child and medical support obligations.

CSEA also facilitates the EPiC financial program. Paying parents make their payments to CSEA, which distributes the funds through the EPiC (Electronic Payment Issuance Card) system. Only CSEA can add money to the EPiC card. The program has a couple of major benefits. First, paying parents and receiving parents no longer have to write checks or exchange payments with each other, thus avoiding a major opportunity for arguments. Second, the receiving parent's child support funds are placed directly on the card and are available to spend immediately, without having to be deposited into a bank account.

CSEA also has various enforcement tools it can use when paying parents aren't meeting their child support obligations. However, in urgent or complicated cases, parents might find it's in their best interest to locate a private lawyer or legal aid attorney who can go to court and argue to a judge on their behalf. In some circumstances, this can be more effective than waiting for CSEA to act.

Collecting Child Support

CSEA (and family court judges) can facilitate the collection of payments from parents with past-due accounts (known as "arrearages") using a variety of legal tools, including:

  • Interception of the paying parent's state and federal tax returns and lottery winnings, and applying them to the arrearages.
  • Referral of cases where the paying parent has arrearages in excess of $2500 to the U.S. State Department, which will automatically deny, revoke, or restrict passports.
  • Suspension of the paying parent's driver's license and professional and occupational licenses if the parent hasn't paid child support for 60 days or more. A suspended license will be reinstated if the parent pays the arrears in full, makes six consecutive child support payments, or proves that the parent is being hampered by some kind of financial hardship.
  • The New Hire Reporting program requires employers to report all their new employees to CSEA within seven days. This enables CSEA to track and trace wages, salaries, bonuses, and commissions being earned by paying parents.
  • The Financial Institution Data Match allows CSEA to match its records up with the records of banks and credit unions doing business inside and outside of Maryland. When CSEA makes a match, it can garnish or levy bank accounts to collect on arrearages.
  • CSEA can report parents with arrearages to the consumer credit bureaus, which will damage those parents' credit ratings.
  • CSEA can establish automatic wage withholding whereby a paying parent's employer is notified about the arrearages and given an official order to give a portion of each paycheck directly to CSEA.
  • CSEA can set up liens on the houses, land, or other property (like cars and boats) of parents who have arrearages. These parents won't be able to sell or transfer ownership of the property until the liens are removed and the arrearages are paid off.
  • CSEA can collect money from unemployment and worker's compensation benefits that would otherwise go to the paying parent.
  • CSEA can take the paying parent to court for contempt. The paying parent would then have to "show cause," or explain to a judge why child support isn't being paid. Contempts are very serious. They can result in jail time, probation, or entry of a judgment that will damage the paying parent's credit rating.
  • If the paying parent hasn't secured medical insurance coverage for a child, CSEA can go ahead and arrange coverage and bill the parents for it afterward.

If you're a paying parent, make sure you keep up with your child support obligation and don't fall into arrearages. If you think you might have a problem, contact CSEA, a family lawyer, or a legal aid attorney for advice about changing your payments and paying off your arrearages. If you're a receiving parent, it's important that you understand all the child support enforcement mechanisms available. If you have further questions after reading this article, you should contact a family law attorney in your area.


Code of Maryland (Unannotated)

Maryland Courts: Family Court Help Centers

The People's Law Library of Maryland (child support topics)

Maryland Department of Human Resources, Child Support Services

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