Remarriage and Child Support in Maryland

A look at the effects of remarriage on child support in Maryland

A couple with a wedding in the works probably isn’t thinking about child support. However, if you have children from a previous relationship, it’s important to understand how changing your marital status may affect support payments. This article provides an overview of how a second marriage affects child support in Maryland. If you have questions, please contact a local family law attorney for advice.

Child Support Basics in Maryland

All parents must financially support their children. This legal obligation applies to both custodial and noncustodial parents. Nevertheless, typically only one parent pays support under a child support award.

Maryland has established a formula for calculating child support based on parents’ actual income. For child support purposes in Maryland, a parent’s actual income includes the parent’s salary, wages, commissions, bonuses, dividend income, pension income, trust income, and social security benefits. Notably, actual income includes severance pay and gifts only in certain circumstances. A parent can easily estimate his or her support obligation by using both parents’ actual incomes.

A judge may deviate from Maryland’s child support guidelines if exceptional circumstances exist. A child with significant medical expenses or the need for specialized therapy may require an increased support award. A judge can order a support deviation where an increased need exists or if a parent has a limited ability to pay support. Nevertheless, a child support award is rarely permanent. Circumstances can change throughout a child’s life, and parents may have their support obligations adjusted accordingly.

Modifying a Child Support Order

Child support won’t change automatically when a parent’s lifestyle changes. Nevertheless, either parent can request to modify child support if there’s been a material change in circumstances. A material change can be a job change, the addition of a new child and even a remarriage. It’s important to file a modification request as soon as circumstances change because support can’t be modified retroactively.

A New Spouse’s Income Isn’t the Remarried Parent’s Income

When calculating child support, a court can’t assign a new spouse’s income to a parent. Maryland’s statue specifically defines income as the “actual income of a parent”, not a parent’s subsequent spouse. For example, in one Maryland case, the court explained that a subsequent spouse’s income couldn’t be assigned even to an underemployed parent. In the case, the court refused to consider the father’s new wife’s income potential even though her earning ability was higher than his.

A judge will examine the parents’ incomes and lifestyles when deciding support. Although a new spouse’s finances can’t be considered in a support modification action, his or her financial contributions are relevant. A parent’s support obligation may be increased if a judge discovers that a new spouse is paying all the parent’s bills. The reasoning behind this rule is that a parent with fewer financial obligations has more money available to pay child support.

A Court May Impute Income

An unemployed or underemployed parent won’t necessarily get his or her child support obligation lowered. In many cases, a court will impute or assign additional income to a low-earning parent. A court will look at a number of factors before deciding an income imputation is appropriate, including:

  • the parent’s recent work history
  • the parent’s physical condition
  • the parent’s efforts to find employment
  • the parent’s occupational qualifications
  • the parent’s education level
  • the prevailing job opportunities, and
  • the earning levels in the local community.

In one Maryland case, a court refused to impute additional income to a father even though his income was cut in half. The court upheld the father’s decision to move to the country where wages were much lower. As a result, the court decreased the father’s child support obligation rather than imputing income. Likewise, a court will typically not impute income to a disabled parent or a parent who has caregiver responsibilities that prevent he or she from working outside the home.

Impact of Remarriage on Child Support in Maryland

Remarriage itself doesn’t amount to a material change in circumstances sufficient to modify child support. However, remarriage’s financial effects can justify a support adjustment. For example, in one Maryland case where both parents had remarried, the court adjusted support because the parents’ change in incomes was a material change in circumstances.

Remarriage can never change a parent’s legal duty to support his or her child. A parent’s financial obligation to his or her child won’t end just because a new marriage begins. Nevertheless, in one Maryland case, a support reduction was justified because the remarried parent gave birth to a new child. While remarriage alone won’t change child support, remarriage’s effects can change a parent’s ability to pay support. Ultimately, a court will compare a current and former family’s needs when deciding support.

Remarriage’s long-term impact on child support is different in every case. If you have additional questions about the consequences of remarriage on support payments in Maryland, contact a local family law attorney for advice.

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