Maryland child support: it’s all about the kids, and the guidelines

Facing divorce is tough enough, but when minor children are involved, the stakes are even higher for both parents. Not only does a parent face uncertainty about where the children will live and how parenting time will be divided, but also concern about child support, whether he or she is likely to pay it or receive it.

Of course, each parent has the legal and ethical obligation to support the children financially. But the reality is that after divorce a similar amount of money will probably have to maintain two households instead of one and often kids see a decline in their standard of living after divorce.

Child support can even the playing field between the two parents and help to soften the financial impact of divorce on children's lives and lifestyles.

Negotiate or litigate

Many Maryland couples are able to negotiate, usually through their divorce attorneys, an appropriate agreement on child support (and custody) as part of a broader marital settlement agreement. If divorcing spouses can agree, it can be faster and cheaper in the long run, because otherwise child support will have to be decided by a Judge or Master in court.

Maryland child support guidelines

For more than two decades, Maryland has required that its courts apply strict child support guidelines to decide how much a noncustodial parent (the obligor) must pay to the custodial parent (the obligee). The law presumes that the monthly guideline amount is "correct," unless evidence that applying the guidelines in a particular case would be "unjust or inappropriate," which would rebut that presumption.

The child support statutes set out a list of considerations the judge may use to decide if using the guidelines would be unjust or inappropriate, and the court's reasons for departing from the guidelines must be clearly set out in the court order, including how it "serves the best interests of the child."

Each parent must complete a detailed Financial Statement to disclose income, assets, expenses and liabilities. Income or support may be adjusted for certain factors like pre-existing child support orders, existing and future alimony orders, voluntary underemployment or unemployment, other dependency benefits for the child, or shared physical custody (if each has the child overnight more than 35 percent of nights each year).

The guidelines produce a specific monthly child support obligation of the parents together, considering the number of children and the parents' combined adjusted actual incomes. The total obligation is then divided proportionately between the parents according to their individual adjusted actual incomes.

The parent with physical custody is expected to spend his or her proportional amount of the obligation on the children's needs and the noncustodial parent would be ordered to pay his or her proportional amount of the support obligation to the custodial parent each month as child support.

In addition, a parent may be ordered to:

  • Contribute to unreimbursed medical expenses
  • Carry the children on his or her medical insurance
  • Contribute to child care costs
  • Cover certain transportation costs
  • Pay for lessons and other activities
  • Contribute to private school tuition
  • And more, depending on the family circumstances

Legal counsel can be crucial

Maryland child support laws and the guidelines are very complex and it is smart for anyone facing a divorce with children in Maryland to consult with an experienced family lawyer early on in order to understand what a child support award is likely to look like, and to plan a negotiation and trial strategy, if necessary.