If you have kids and you’re getting divorced or ending a relationship, you’ll need to establish child support. A parent’s duty to support a child doesn’t end just because the parents’ relationship does.
Although parents can reach their own agreement on child support, a judge will have to approve a child support award to ensure that it serves the child’s best interests. Generally, a judge will decide child support based upon Maine’s child support guidelines.
Maine follows the “Income Shares Model,” which means that a judge will determine support by calculating how much each parent spent on the child while living together as a family. This number is then divided according to each parent’s income to come up with a final support amount. Each parent will be 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).
Generally, the parents’ custody arrangement and visitation schedule will impact child support. Specifically, in most cases, a custodial parent (parent with primary physical custody of the child) will receive support. The noncustodial parent (parent who spends less than 50 percent of the time with the child) is usually responsible for paying support to the custodial parent.
Parents can estimate their support obligation by completing the Schedule of Basic Child Support Obligation (Court Form FM 84) available on Maine’s Judicial Branch website. The schedule calculates support based on the parents’ combined gross incomes and the number of children they have together.
Your support amount could vary depending on whether your child is under or over 12 years old. The Maine legislature has determined that the costs of raising older children are somewhat higher. 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.
Obtaining an accurate child support figure requires multiple steps, and the guidelines are fairly complex. Although the Maine Judicial Branch site 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.
Understanding each parent’s gross income is essential when calculating child support. Gross income generally includes all kinds of pretax income, whether earned or unearned. Common examples are wages, commissions, self-employment earnings, disability payments, military pay, pensions, and investment income.
Gross income also 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 paid to you. 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. A parent’s gross income also includes the value of any fringe benefits received that reduce living expenses, such as housing or a car. Maine’s child support guidelines include a complete definition of gross income.
Spousal support or child support paid in another case should be deducted from the paying parent’s gross income for purposes of calculating child support. A parent may also deduct the costs of raising another child (such as a child from a remarriage) from his or her gross income amount.
When calculating a parent’s gross 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 impute (assign) additional potential income based on that parent’s education, experience, and available job opportunities. When a court imputes income to a parent, it will increase that parent’s resulting child support obligation.
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 likely order by downloading and completing a Child Support Affidavit (For FM 50) and a Child Support Worksheet (Form FM 40).
Typically, only the noncustodial parent will pay support because courts presume that the primary custodial 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 childcare, 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 believe 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, a judge may increase or decrease a parent’s support obligation if one parent is paying the costs of childcare, insurance premiums, and/or extraordinary medical expenses 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. See Me. Rev. Stat. tit. 19-A, § 2005 (2020).
In some cases courts will order an amount that differs from the guideline amount (called a “deviation”). See Me. Rev. Stat. tit. 19-A, § 2007 (2020). A court might find that a deviation is fair if, for example, a child has an independent source of income, 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 a modification are a parent’s new high-paying job, an international move, or a major change to the parenting arrangement. A judge will presume that a modification is appropriate if the difference between the existing award and a potential new award under the guidelines varies by more than 15 percent.
In Maine, the obligation to pay child support ordinarily ends when a child turns 18. A court may extend the obligation until a child’s 19th birthday if the child is still in high school, or special circumstances apply.
Once you’ve established a child support order, you’ll need to collect monthly support. It’s easier than ever for a parent to make child support payments. Unless your order specifies that payments must be made a certain way, a parent can pay child support by cash, check, bank transfer, direct deposit, or by using payment apps such as Venmo or Zelle.
If you’re stuck dealing with a deadbeat parent who refuses to pay court-ordered support, you can contact The Division of Support Enforcement & Recovery (DSER) of the Maine Department of Health and Human Services for help. Th DSRE is responsible for helping parents obtain and enforce child support orders, including locating absent parents and establishing paternity, if necessary.