Every remarriage is accompanied by its own set of surprises and lifestyle adjustments. Nevertheless, if you’re a parent with a child from a previous relationship, remarriage may affect your child support payments as well. This article provides an overview of remarriage’s impact on child support in Maine. If you have questions, please contact a local family law attorney for advice.
Every divorce or separation involving children will end with a child support order. Typically, one parent is obligated to pay child support under the order, but both parents have an ongoing duty to financially support their children regardless of remarriage.
In Maine, child support awards are based primarily on parents’ gross annual incomes. For child support purposes, a parent’s gross earnings will include salaries, wages, tips, commissions, bonuses, social security benefits, and stock dividends. The Maine legislature established a formula for calculating support to simplify and streamline child support orders. Every child support award will allocate the amount of support needed for childcare costs, extraordinary medical expenses, health insurance premiums, and basic support entitlements.
However, in cases where a parent has a very limited income or extraordinary expenses, a court can deviate from Maine’s support guidelines. Additionally, a severely disabled child or child with significant medical needs may require a bigger support award than what’s allowed under the guidelines.
Typically, the obligation to pay child support continues until a child reaches the age of 18 or until the award is modified.
Either parent can file a request to modify child support at any time. Nevertheless, a judge won’t adjust support unless there’s been a "substantial change" in either parent’s circumstances or unless a support order is over three years old. A substantial change may include a job loss, a new baby, or a major promotion for either parent. Child support adjustments only affect future support payments.
A second marriage, by itself, doesn't necessarily constitute a substantial change in circumstances. But many remarried parents do receive additional help from a new spouse to cover basic household expenses. A new spouse’s contributions and income often defray the costs of raising a child.
Although a new spouse has no legal duty to support a stepchild, a new spouse’s income can, and usually will, be considered in a child support modification case. A judge can’t assign a new spouse’s income to a parent - in other words, judges can't simply add the new spouse's income to the parent's income to calculate how much money is available to pay child support. However, a court can treat the additional income as part of the parent’s overall household income. In one Maine case, the judge increased a father’s child support obligation because he was sharing household expenses with his new wife. The reasoning behind the court’s ruling was that a parent with fewer expenses has more money available to pay child support.
A parent’s duty to pay support doesn't end just because he or she is part of a new household. Even a parent who has another child as a result of the remarriage must still support his or her older children. In some cases, a court may have to adjust a parent’s support obligation with the addition of more children. Ultimately, a judge will balance the needs of both families when deciding child support.
In some support cases, courts may impute or assign additional income to parents who are voluntarily unemployed. As a result, the unemployed or underemployed parent’s child support obligation will increase.
Before imputing income, a judge will examine a number of factors, including:
Moreover, a judge will take into account a parent’s responsibilities to care for a disabled adult or very young child. Courts don't typically impute income to parents who can't work outside the home because they are caretakers.
Every child support modification case is different. If you have additional questions about the effects of remarriage on child support in Maine, contact a local family law attorney for advice.