If you're 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 estimates the amount of money parents spend on their children while the family lives in the same household—called "combined adjusted actual income." This amount is divided between the parents based on earnings. In other words, each parent will be assigned a support amount under the Income Shares Model based on his or her income.
Maryland's child support guidelines allow parents to calculate their support obligation by inputting their combined incomes 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. In Maryland, custody and visitation arrangements, alimony awards, and child support orders from previous relationships can impact support amounts.
The Family Law section of the Maryland Courts website provides forms and instructions for parents handling their own child support case. In most cases, 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. Ultimately, a judge will order a child support amount only if it's in the child's best interests. If you're having trouble with the forms and calculations, contact an attorney for help.
You can also try using Maryland's Department of Human Services 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 court-ordered 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 noncustodial parent (parent without primary custody) will pay support—courts presume that the custodial parent's share is already going toward the direct costs of raising children. See Md. Fam. Law Code § 12-204 (2020).
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 pretax income, whether earned or unearned. Common examples are wages, commissions, military pay, 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 or alimony you pay as part of a previous court order from 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 impute (assign) income and increase that parent's child support obligation accordingly.
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.
A judge may also adjust child support include any court-approved special education costs or transportation expenses that the 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" or "deviation"). 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 the marital home, or if one parent has additional expenses for children from another relationship. A judge 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 new, higher-paying job, or a major change to the parents' custody arrangement.
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.
With a child support order in place, you'll need to collect payments. Even though both parents are assigned a percentage of child support under a Maryland support order, only the noncustodial parent will have to pay support directly to the other parent. Paying child support nowadays is easy. Unless your court order says otherwise, an obligor parent can pay support via cash, check, direct deposit, or by using payment apps such as Venmo or Zelle.
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.