When Maryland couples with children divorce, an order for child support provides for the financial needs of the child. The state considers both parents financially responsible for the child, and the divorce court generally orders the amount of support to be paid according to Maryland’s Child Support Guidelines. Parents are required to pay child support under the order until the child or children reach eighteen, graduate high school, or become emancipated. But what happens if a party obligated to pay support receives a large bonus, or a child’s need for support increases at some point after an order is entered? Can the order be modified to protect the best interests of the child, so the child receives more support? Can a loss of income mean one party’s support obligation might be reduced?
When can you modify a child support order in Fulton?
An order for support may be modified in the best interests of the child, if the court finds the situations of a party or child have changed materially since the order was entered. Maryland courts recognize the change should be “relevant to the level of support a child is actually receiving or entitled to receive,” and “of a sufficient magnitude to justify judicial modification of the support order.” Reasons for requesting a change in child support often include a significant change in parental income, or the child custody schedule, or child expenses.
Is there a material change in parental income?
Maryland’s child support law and Child Support Guidelines generally determine how courts award child support, unless a party can establish that applying the Guidelines would be unfair. Maryland divides the support obligations of each parent in proportion to their “adjusted actual” incomes or “potential incomes” (if a parent is “voluntary unemployed,” but the court determines the party is able to work and earn a potential income) which are also key in determining the basic level of child support required by the state. “Adjusted actual income” is determined under Maryland law by deducting a parent’s other child support or alimony payments from “actual income.” Actual income is widely defined as “income from any source” and specifically includes:
- Salaries, wages, commissions, and bonuses
- Dividend, pension, interest, trust, and annuity income
- Benefits from Social Security, workers’ compensation, unemployment insurance, and disability insurance
- Any third party payment paid to or for a minor child due to the parent/obligor’s disability, retirement, or other compensable claim
- Received alimony or maintenance payments
- Expense reimbursements or in-kind payments received by a parent in the course of employment, self-employment, or operation of a business to the extent the reimbursements or payments reduce the parent’s personal living expenses
- Income from self-employment, rent, royalties, proprietorship of a business, or joint ownership of a partnership or closely held corporation, defined as gross receipts minus ordinary and necessary expenses required to produce income
Additionally, in some cases a court may consider “severance pay, capital gains, gifts, or prizes” as actual income. However, under the law “means-tested public assistance programs, including temporary cash assistance, Supplemental Security Income, food stamps, and transitional emergency, medical, and housing assistance” are excluded from actual income.
Since child support is awarded in the best interests of the child, a court could find that a material increase in parental income should also benefit the child. Child support is not meant to provide only the minimum support. A child has a right to request more support if a support-paying parent benefits from a material increase income. Where parent combined adjusted actual income exceeds the highest level specified in the schedule of support and obligations contained in Maryland law and the Child Support Guidelines, the court may use its discretion in setting the amount of child support so that the child may benefit from the financial status enjoyed by the parents. (The combined adjusted actual income amounts were set at $15,000 per month until June 30, 2022 and scheduled to rise to $30,000 per month on July 1, 2022, with an increased schedule of support and obligations.)
On the other hand, a parent arguing for a lower support payment would have to explain why lowering the ordered support would be justified by material changes, and the court would have to consider the best interests of the child. A parent able to work but choosing to work less to go back to school, might argue that lowering the support payment for a time would still be in the child’s best interests, since a better education would lead to higher paying employment and income for the parent and greater support in the future. Parents sentenced to a term of imprisonment of 180 consecutive days or more without work release and sufficient resources to make child support payments may have their support obligations suspended by the state.
Is there a material change in the child’s expenses?
Over the years, the custody schedule or needs of the child benefiting from a support order may change. Maryland’s Child Support Guidelines calculate shared physical payments for custody when a parent has custody of a child for as few as 25% to 30% of nights a year. If a shared custody schedule changes materially than what was calculated under the Guidelines and provided for in the support order, the support order may need to be amended in the best interests of the child to reflect new expenditures for support. A parent or child might also move, requiring increased travel costs incurred because of the child custody schedule or visitations, but unforeseen at the time of the original order.
A baby may need diapers, baby clothes, food, and a crib, but as the child grows support costs will change and grow. Additional or expanded childcare allowing the parents to work may be required. A growing child may need unforeseen medical expenses not covered by insurance such as orthodonture or counseling. A child may require contribution to tutoring, private school placement, lessons, counseling, or numerous other kinds of support. An affluent parent may be able to pay the cost of enriching experiences. In many cases the cost of providing for a child’s needs will increase. As these costs change, parents may need to seek modification of orders entered under the Guidelines or through the court’s discretion to protect the best interests of the child.
U.S. News and Reports estimates raising a child born in 2021 to the age of 18 will cost $267,233, excluding college. Divorcing parents will have to comply with support orders entered for their children at the time of divorce for many years and may not be in a position to anticipate all of the needs of their children, nor understand the complexities of support orders when they are entered. Additionally, perhaps an agreed upon order ultimately may prove not to have been made in the best interests of the child.
If you are a Maryland parent concerned that a material change of circumstances may affect your child’s support payments, the experienced child support attorneys at McCabe Russell, PA in Fulton provide capable child support representation to protect the best interests of your child. You can set up a consultation today by calling 443.917.3347 or reach out to us through our contact form. We will meet with you to talk about your situation and offer phone and video consultations. We also maintain offices in Columbia, Bethesda, and Rockville.