Child Support in Maryland

Learn how child support works in Maryland, including how to calculate support, when the judge may depart from the state's guidelines, how to change in your existing support order, and more.

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Like every other state in the U.S., Maryland has child support guidelines meant to provide consistent outcomes when judges or parents are deciding on the proper amount of support in any case. Many factors go into child support calculations, and the process can seem daunting at first. The state does provide some online tools to help (more on those below). But before you begin, it's a good idea to have a basic understanding of how Maryland's guidelines work, both when you're first establishing child support and when you're hoping to change your existing support order.

Who Pays Child Support in Maryland?

Both parents are legally required to support their children financially. But ultimately, it's the custody arrangement that controls who will pay child support when the parents aren't together.

When the children live with one parent (the custodial parent), the total support obligation for both parents is divided between them in proportion to their respective shares of their combined "adjusted actual income" (more below on what that means). Noncustodial parents pay their share of the support obligation to the custodial parents. Although the custodial parent also has a support obligation, the guidelines assume this parent's share goes directly to pay for the child's daily expenses.

When the parents have shared custody, special calculations will determine who pays support, as well as the amount of the support obligation (more on that below).

Under Maryland law, a judge may decide not to award any child support, but only in limited circumstances. Unless the parent who would otherwise be obligated to pay support is living with the child and contributing to the child's support, that parent must be unemployed, with no financial resources to pay child support, and must be one of the following:

  • totally and permanently disabled (with no ability to work and no income other than SSI or Social Security disability benefits)
  • incarcerated or institutionalized in a psychiatric facility (a situation that will continue for the rest of the time the parent would be obligated to support the child), or
  • unable to be employed in the foreseeable future because of hospitalization, rehabilitation treatment, or criminal detention.

(Md. Code, Fam. Law § 12-202(b) (2024).)

How to Calculate Child Support in Maryland

Maryland's guidelines use what's known as the "income shares model." This approach is intended to make sure that children have the benefit of both parents' income, and that the overall support obligation is fairly divided between the parents. Here are the basic steps that go into the child support calculation :

  • The guidelines include a schedule that shows parents' basic, overall child support obligation based on their combined adjusted actual income (as defined below) and the number of children they have.
  • Each parent's share of the total support obligation is then based on their proportional share of their combined adjusted income. For example, let's say Parent A's monthly income is $4,900 and Parent B's is $2,100. In that scenario, Parent A's share of their combined income is 70%—which would also be that parent's share of the total child support obligation.
  • Additional adjustments take into account certain child-related expenses, shared custody, and a "self-support reserve."

(Md. Code, Fam. Law §§ 12-201(o), (p), 12-204 (2024).)

What Counts as Income When Calculating Child Support in Maryland?

The first step in calculating child support is to gather information about both parents' actual and adjusted income. Actual income includes:

  • salaries, commissions, and bonuses
  • self-employment income (minus ordinary and necessary expenses)
  • reimbursements or in-kind employment payments that reduce living expenses
  • retirement income, including pensions, annuities, and Social Security benefits
  • workers' compensation and disability benefits
  • interest and dividends
  • unemployment benefits, and
  • alimony that a parent will be receiving.

    Depending on the circumstances, a judge may also include severance pay, capital gains, gifts, or prizes as income. But actual income does not include means-tested public assistance benefits, such as Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and SNAP (food stamps).

    Each parent's actual income is then adjusted by subtracting:

    • any preexisting child support obligations that are reasonable and that the parent actually pays, and
    • alimony that a parent actually pays, either to the other parent or to a previous spouse.

    If the parents' monthly combined adjusted actual income falls between the amounts shown on Maryland's child support schedule, they'll use the basic child support amount shown for the next higher income level. For very high earners who have incomes above the highest amount shown on the schedule, judges may decide on an appropriate amount of support.

    Because alimony is added to the income of the parent receiving it and deducted from the income of the paying parent, any alimony request in the parents' divorce will have to be resolved before child support can be calculated.

    (Md. Code, Fam. Law § 12-201(b), (c), 12-204 (2024).)

    When Maryland Judges May Impute Income to Parents

    If you think you can avoid paying child support by purposely lowering your earnings, or even trying to hide income, think again. Under Maryland law, a judge may calculate support based on your potential income (sometimes called "imputing income") if the judge finds that you're voluntarily unemployed or underemployed (or what Maryland law calls "voluntarily impoverished").

    Once a judge has concluded that a parent is voluntarily impoverished, the judge will have to decide how much income that parent could be earning, based on all of the circumstances that could affect the parent's ability to pay child support, including:

    • the parent's actual income and assets
    • the parent's recent work and earnings history
    • the parent's educational and occupational qualifications, age, literacy, health, criminal record, and record of seeking work
    • existing job opportunities and associated earning levels in the community, and
    • the availability of employers willing to hire the parent.

    But a judge may not impute potential income to parents who are:

    • unable to work because of a physical or mental disability, or
    • caring for a child younger than two years old for whom the parents are responsible.

    (Md. Code, Fam. Law § 12-201(m), 12-204(b) (2024).)

    Adjustments for Medical Expenses and Child Care

    Maryland's child support guidelines allow adjustments for the following expenses:

    • actual child care expenses that are due to either parent's employment or job search
    • the actual cost of providing health insurance for the child (including dental and vision insurance), and
    • the child's extraordinary, uninsured medical expenses (over $250 a year).

    These costs will be added to the basic support obligation and divided between the parents in proportion to their adjusted actual incomes. The parents may also agree (or the judge may order) to add and divide additional expenses for transporting the child between the parents' homes, and the cost of special or private schools to meet the child's particular educational needs. (Md. Code, Fam. Law §§ 12-201(g), (h), 12-204(g), (h), (i) (2024).)

    Adjustments for Shared Custody

    The guidelines also include special calculations and adjustments to reflect the additional costs parents face when they have shared physical custody. To qualify for this special treatment, each of the parents must have the child for more than 25% of the time (at least 92 overnights each year), and they both must contribute to the child's expenses in addition to paying child support. These special calculations will determine the amount of each parent's support obligation as well as which of them will have to make support payments. (Md. Code, Fam. Law §§ 12-201(o), 12-204(m) (2024).)

    Adjustment for Low-Income Parents

    Maryland's guidelines include a "self-support reserve" adjustment to ensure that a parent who's paying child support will be left with enough money to sustain at least a minimum standard of living. This adjustment is built into the schedule shown in the guidelines. (Md. Code, Fam. Law §§ 12-201(m) (2024).)

    When Child Support May Differ From the Guideline Amount

    Maryland law presumes that the child support amount calculated under the guidelines is correct. But a judge may order a different amount of support if a parent can prove that the guideline amount would be unjust or inappropriate, and if the different amount would serve the child's best interests. When deciding whether that's the case, the judge may consider the relevant circumstances, including:

    • whether either parent owes a legal duty to support other children living in the household and, if so, how much the parent is actually contributing to their expenses, and
    • the financial provisions in any existing court order or agreement between the parents dealing with issues such as payments for a mortgage or other marital debts, payments for their child's college expenses, and either parent's right to stay in the family home.

    However, even if a parent is supporting another child in the household, that won't be enough on its own to justify departing from the guidelines.

    (Md. Code, Fam. Law 12-202(a) (2024).)

    Can Parents Agree on Child Support?

    Parents are free to agree on a child support amount—and thanks to the guidelines, most parents do reach an agreement, at least at some point in the process. However, they'll need to submit their signed, written agreement to the court. A judge will review the agreement and compare it with Maryland's child support guidelines.

    Typically, judges will approve agreements for an amount of child support that's higher than the guideline calculation. But if parents have agreed on a below-guideline amount, the judge will have to decide whether the departure from the guidelines is warranted and is in the child's best interests.

    When Does Child Support End in Maryland?

    Ordinarily, a parent's child support duty in Maryland will end when the child turns 18. But if the child is still enrolled in secondary school at that time, the support duty continues until whichever of the following happens first:

    • the child graduates high school or drops out
    • the child turns 19, or
    • the child marries or is otherwise emancipated.

    Of course, a child's death will end the parents' support obligation as well. (Md. Code, Gen. Prov. § 1-401(b) (2024).)

    Despite these cut-off dates, you should know that as long as parents have the means to do so, they must provide food, shelter, care, and clothing for an adult child who can't be self-supporting because of a mental or physical disability, and who has no other means of support. Neglecting or refusing to meet this obligation is a misdemeanor in Maryland. (Md. Code, Fam. Law §§ 13-101, 102 (2024).)

    Parents may always agree to extend child support, such as when they want to support a child who's attending college. To prevent any future problems, it's best to have the agreement in writing, signed by both parents, and approved by a judge.

    How to Apply for Child Support in Maryland

    When parents are getting divorced, child support is handled as part of the divorce process. You can request child support when you file your divorce papers.

    Otherwise, you may file for support through the Maryland Child Support Administration (CSA). The CSA can help you with various aspects of child support, including establishing paternity if necessary.

    Collecting and Enforcing Child Support in Maryland

    A judge must include an earnings withholding order for child support if a parent or the CSA requests it, unless the judge:

    • finds there's a good reason not to require withholding (such as when a parent is self-employed), or
    • approves the parents' agreement for a different arrangement.

    (Md. Code, Fam. Law § 10-123 (2024).)

    With earnings withholding, the child support payments are taken out of the paychecks of the parent who owes support and forwarded to the recipient parent. If there's no earnings withholding order, parents may pay support online through the Maryland State Disbursement Unit. Recipient parents may receive support payments by direct deposit, check, or a debit card.

    If you're having trouble collecting support payments, you can request help from the CSA. Depending on the amount of overdue payments, the agency has various ways of enforcing child support orders, including:

    • requesting income withholding, if it hasn't already been ordered
    • intercepting federal and state income tax refunds
    • reporting the debt to credit bureaus
    • getting the delinquent parent's driver's, professional, or recreational licenses suspended
    • placing a lien on the delinquent parent's property, so the parent can't sell or borrow money on the property until the debt is paid off
    • garnishing bank accounts, and
    • asking the federal government not to issue or renew a passport.

    You also have the option of filing a motion (written legal request) directly with the court for enforcement. This usually involves asking the judge to find the delinquent parent in contempt of court, which can result in fines and even jail time.

    It's important to remember that you're still obligated to obey the terms of any custody and visitation order, even if your co-parent isn't keeping up with child support payments. And if you're the noncustodial parent, you aren't allowed to stop making payments just because the other parent is withholding visitation.

    How to Request a Change in Child Support in Maryland

    Under Maryland law, a judge may modify an existing child support order if a parent can prove that there's been a material change of circumstances since the current order went into effect. In this context, a change is "material" if it's:

    • relevant to the amount of support the child is entitled to receive, and
    • substantial enough to justify a modification.

    (Md. Code, Fam. Law § 12-104(a) (2024); Wheeler v. State, 864 A.2d 210 (Md. Ct. Spec. App. 2004).)

    Some fairly common reasons for requesting a modification of child support include:

    • a substantial increase or decrease in a parent's income
    • a parent's involuntary loss of employment (although the judge could consider whether that's a temporary situation)
    • a substantial increase or decrease in expenses related to the children, and
    • a change in the parents' physical custody arrangements.

    Also, Maryland law specifically authorizes modification requests based on the expiration of an order that gave one spouse the right to stay in the family home. A judge must review the order after such a request. If the allocation of financial responsibility for the family home was a factor in allowing a departure from the guidelines, the judge may modify the support amount when that's appropriate. (Md. Code, Fam. Law, § 12-104(k) (2024).)

    You may request a support modification through the CSA or file a petition to modify child support directly with the court. Either way, a judge will decide whether a modification is appropriate under the guidelines (or a deviation from the guidelines, if that's warranted), based on your current financial status and other information.

    Be aware that the judge may not retroactively modify a child support award prior to the date the motion for modification was filed. So if you believe your circumstances qualify for a modification, don't delay in taking action.

    Does Remarriage Affect Child Support in Maryland?

    Ordinarily, the fact that a parent has remarried won't be a reason to modify the amount of child support. A new spouse's income isn't included in a parent's income for purposes of calculating support.

    That said, some circumstances related to a parent's remarriage could potentially play a role in a judge's decision to allow support modification, especially when the parent and new spouse have their own kids. As we saw above, when judges are deciding whether to alow a departure from the guidelines, they may consider whether a parent has a legal duty to support other children in the household and is contributing to their expenses. But that can only be one factor supporting a deviation, not the only one. Also, the presence of stepchildren in a blended family shouldn't be a factor, since stepparents don't generally have a legal duty to support their stepkids.

    Resources and Help Calculating Child Support

    You can use Maryland's official online child support calculator to get an estimate of the guideline amount of support in your case. The calculator includes separate worksheets when one parent will have primary physical custody and when the parents share custody. Remember that the judge may order a different amount of support in your case (for the reasons discussed above).

    You can also contact your local CSA office for more information or help with establishing, enforcing, or modifying child support.

    Because custody arrangements affect child support, some parents need help working out a parenting agreement before they can even use the child support calculator. If that's true for you, you might consider custody mediation. And if you want to take advantage of the benefits of filing for a "mutual consent" divorce in Maryland, a mediator may be able to help you reach a comprehensive divorce settlement agreement addressing all the issues involved in ending your marriage.

    As helpful as these resources can be, you may need to speak with a lawyer in some situations, particularly when you and your co-parent can't agree about whether to depart from the guidelines.

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