If you are a parent going through a divorce, or if you have never been married to your child’s other parent and are ending the relationship, you may need information about child support. In Maine, both parents, whether married or not, are obligated to support their children.
Maine follows the “Income Shares Model” which means that courts will estimate the amount parents spend on their children when both parents and children live together in one household (as if the family were still intact) and then divide this amount between the parents based on their incomes.
Judges ordering child support in Maine refer to the current version of the Child Support Guidelines contained in Title 19-A, Chapter 63, of the Maine Revised Statutes, and the state’s Schedule of Basic Child Support Obligation (Court Form FM 84). The schedule shows the total amount of support both parents must pay based on their combined gross incomes (explained in detail below) and the number of children they have together. There are separate support amounts listed for children under age 12 and children ages 12-17, based on the state’s determination that costs of raising older children are somewhat higher. Each parent is responsible for a percentage of the total support obligation based on that parent’s income share. For example, if parent A earns $600 per week and parent B earns $400 per week, parent A would be responsible for 60% of the support amount (600 divided by 1,000) and parent B for 40% of the support amount (400 divided by 1,000).
Obtaining an accurate child support figure requires multiple steps, and the guidelines are fairly complex. The Maine Judicial Branch provides forms and information on its website for parents who wish to handle their own child support case. Navigating through the materials on your own can be quite challenging. If you’re having trouble with the forms and calculations, contact an attorney for help.
You can also try using this quick child support calculator, but keep in mind that the calculator won’t take into account any adjustments for shared parenting or other unusual situations.
Gross income generally includes all kinds of pre-tax income, whether earned or unearned. Common examples are wages, commissions, self-employment earnings, disability payments, and investment income. Gross income includes alimony you receive from a former spouse who isn’t the parent of a child in the current case, but it doesn’t include child support you receive for children from other relationships. If you’re self-employed, you can deduct necessary costs of doing business from your gross receipts to get your gross income, but be aware that the allowable deductions are very limited and may not include everything allowed by the IRS. Gross income also includes the value of any fringe benefits you receive that reduce your living expenses, such as housing or a car. The guidelines include a complete definition of gross income and the Financial Statement contains a breakdown of the most common types.
After calculating your gross income, you can deduct any child support or spousal support you pay in another case. If you are the parent who will be paying support in this case, you may also be able to deduct an amount for the support of children from another relationship who are living in your home. The worksheet will help you calculate all applicable deductions.
In addition to counting actual income, if a court believes that a parent is choosing not to work, or is choosing to work at a lower-paying job than the parent is qualified for, it may also include potential income based on that parent’s education, experience, and available job opportunities.
If you and your child’s other parent have a parenting arrangement with one primary residential parent (children live with one parent more than half the time and that parent provides the majority of care), you can estimate how much child support a court would be likely to order by downloading and completing a Child Support Affidavit (Form FM 50) and a Child Support Worksheet (Form FM 40). Only the non-primary parent will pay support; courts presume that the primary parent's share is already going toward the direct costs of raising children.
If children spend exactly half the time with each parent, or if they live with one parent more than half the time but both parents provide nearly equal child care, the shared parenting calculation may be more appropriate. There is no precise definition of equal care; a court will look at how much each parent participates in and contributes to a child’s educational, recreational, medical, and general overall needs. If you agree that you have an equal parenting arrangement, or if the court decides that you do, then in addition to the Child Support Affidavit and Worksheet, you must also complete a Supplemental Worksheet (Form FM 40A).
The equal time-sharing calculation begins with an increased total support amount which is divided between the parents. The guidelines start with the increased amount due to the higher costs involved in providing two residences for a child. The guidelines explain the calculation in detail and the Supplemental Worksheet will walk you through it step-by-step.
After determining the basic support obligation, you can make certain limited adjustments for items such as health insurance premiums, extraordinary medical expenses, and work-related child care expenses that either parent is paying directly. Regardless of whether you’re using the standard formula or the shared parenting formula, you will divide responsibility for these expenses according to your income percentages only. Under special circumstances, such as where the paying parent has either a very low or a very high income, additional adjustments may be necessary.
In some cases courts will order an amount that differs from the guideline amount (called a “deviation”). A court might find that a deviation is fair if, for example, a child has an independent source of income or extraordinary educational needs, or if one of the parents is supporting an elderly relative or a disabled adult child. The court can consider any circumstances that would make strict application of the guidelines unfair or not in a child’s best interests. If you believe a deviation is appropriate in your case, you must provide the court with a written explanation of the reasons.
Once a court has made an initial child support order, a parent who wants to modify (change) the support order must show a substantial and ongoing change in circumstances. Some examples of changes that might justify modification would be one parent’s getting a much higher paying job, or both parents changing the parenting arrangement to either start or discontinue shared parenting. Courts will presume that a modification is appropriate if the difference between an existing award and the amount determined by a new analysis and application of the current guidelines varies by more than 15%, provided that the existing award didn’t include any deviations.
In Maine, the obligation to pay child support ordinarily ends when a child turns 18. A court may extend the obligation up to a child’s 19th birthday if the child is still in high school.
The Division of Support Enforcement & Recovery (DSER) of the Maine Department of Health and Human Services is responsible for helping parents obtain and enforce child support orders, including locating absent parents and establishing paternity, if necessary More information about these services is available on the DHS website.