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 Maryland, both parents, whether married or not, are obligated to support their children.
Maryland 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.
The guidelines include a schedule of basic child support obligations that shows the total amount of support both parents must pay based on their combined “adjusted actual incomes” (explained in detail below), and the number of children they have together. A percentage of the total support obligation is assigned to each parent based on that parent’s income percentage. For example, if parent A earns $6,000 per month and parent B earns $4,000 per month, parent A would be responsible for 60% of the support amount (6,000 divided by 10,000) and parent B for 40% of the support amount (4,000 divided by 10,000).
Multiple steps are required to obtain an accurate child support figure, and the guidelines are fairly complex. The Maryland Judiciary provides forms and information on its website for parents who wish to handle their own child support case. You can estimate how much child support a court would be likely to order in your case by downloading and completing a Financial Statement (Form DR 30) and a Child Support Guidelines Worksheet; either Worksheet A—Primary Physical Custody (Form DR 34) or Worksheet B—Shared Physical Custody (Form DR 35). 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 parenting time or other unusual situations
If you and your child’s other parent have a parenting arrangement where one of you has primary physical custody and the other has visitation amounting to less than 35% of overnights per year, you should use Worksheet A. Under the primary parent calculation, the total amount of support is divided between the parents based on their percentage shares of income, without any adjustment for parenting time. Only the non-custodial parent will pay support; courts presume that the custodial parent's share is already going toward the direct costs of raising children.
If each of you has the children for at least 35% of overnights per year (shared custody), you should use Worksheet B. The Maryland guidelines recognize that in shared parenting arrangements both parents must maintain an essentially full-time residence for a child, resulting in an overall increase both in the total costs of raising children and the expenses of each parent. The shared custody formula begins by multiplying the basic child support obligation (from the schedule in the guidelines) by 1.5. Parents then divide this increased support amount between them according to their incomes and parenting time (percentage of time or number of days per year that a child spends with each parent). This process involves multiple steps. The guidelines explain the calculation in detail and Worksheet B will walk you through it step-by-step.
Actual 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. If you’re self-employed, you can deduct necessary costs of doing business from your gross receipts to get your actual income, but be aware that the available deductions are very limited and do not include everything allowed by the IRS. Both the guidelines and the definitions section of Form DR 30 (Financial Statement) contain a description of what to include in actual income.
You can deduct any child support you pay in another case, as well as any alimony you pay in another case or in this case, to get your adjusted actual income. If you receive any alimony, you must add those payments to your income.
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.
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. You can also make an adjustment for any special education costs or transportation expenses that a court has approved or that both parents have agreed to share. Regardless of whether you’re using the sole parenting or shared parenting formula, you will divide responsibility for these expenses according to income share only, without adjustment for parenting time.
In some cases courts will order an amount that differs from the guideline amount (called a “departure”). A court might find that a departure is fair if, for example, one parent is already paying the mortgage and expenses for the other parent to continue living in a home they used to share, or if one parent has additional expenses for children from another relationship living in the home. The court will generally consider any financial circumstances included in a property settlement agreement or a court order. If the child support order departs from the guidelines, either the court record or the order itself must include findings indicating what the guideline amount would be, how the order differs from that amount, and why the departure is in the best interests of the children.
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 the parents making a permanent change in the number of days per week that each of them spends with a child. A parent can also request a modification if there has been a change in the child support guidelines that would increase or decrease the support amount by at least 25%. In Maryland, 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 a high school student.
The Maryland Department of Human Resources (DHS) 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.