Child Support

NOTICE: None of these questions and answers constitute legal advice. To obtain legal advice, consult with an attorney. This is especially important in divorce and family law matters, in which outcomes are often peculiar to the particular facts and circumstances of the case.

How is child support determined?

Maryland has adopted child support guidelines. The guidelines are computed using each parent’s “actual income,” adjusted for (1) pre-existing child support actually paid and (2) alimony (deducted from payer and added to payee). The outcome is affected by certain expenses that are divided proportionately based on the parties’ incomes: 1) health insurance premiums (if child included), (2) work-related child care, (3) extraordinary medical expenses and (4) additional expenses (which may include: special or private school, transportation between parents’ homes).

When does child support end?

Usually, the obligation to support a child ends when the first of these milestones is reached: 1) the child reaches age 18 after graduating or withdrawing from high school, 2) the child graduates or withdraws from high school after reaching age 18, 3) the child reaches age 19, 4) the child or the parent paying child support dies.

However, if child support is owed for more than one child, as the obligation ends for each individual child the total amount due will not change unless a court order is obtained. In addition, child support can be extended if a child is a “destitute adult child,” meaning the child (1) has no means of subsistence and (2) cannot be self-supporting, due to mental or physical infirmity.

What counts as income for computing child support?

“Actual income,” which is what counts for computing child support, means income from any source. “Actual income” includes: (i) Salaries; (ii) Wages; (iii) Commissions;(iv)Bonuses; (v) Dividend income; (vi) Pension income; (vii) interest income; (viii) Trust income; (ix) Annuity income; (x) Social Security benefits; (xi) Workers’ compensation benefits; (xii) Unemployment insurance benefits; (xiii) Disability insurance benefits; and (xiv) Alimony or maintenance received. “Actual income” is not limited to these categories. Read more FAQs about expense reimbursements or in-kind payments, self-employment income, overtime and other categories.

Does overtime income count?

Money earned by working overtime as a regular part of a parent’s employment constitutes “actual income” for purposes of determining child support payments, but this additional income cannot be speculative or uncertain.

What about company-paid cars, business expense accounts and other business expenses?

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 included in “actual income.”

How is income from self-employment or a small business figured?

For income from self-employment, rent, royalties, proprietorship of a business, or joint ownership of a partnership or closely held corporation, “actual income” means gross receipts minus ordinary and necessary expenses required to produce income.

Are there any other kinds of income that can be included?

Based on the circumstances of the case, the court may consider the following items as actual income: (i) Severance pay; (ii) Capital gains; (iii) Gifts; or (iv) Prizes. For example, in one case where a parent had received regular subsidies from his mother for a long period of time, these subsidies were included in his “actual income.” However, in another case, where a mother’s live-in boyfriend paid toward bills for rent, electricity, cable, telephone service and trash removal, the payments were not included in her “actual income.”

How are child care expenses determined?

Child care expenses are determined based on actual family experience, unless the court finds that the actual family experience is not in the child’s best interest. If there is no actual family experience, or the court finds that the actual family experience is not in the child’s best interest, then child care expenses are set at the lesser of what it would cost to provide quality care from a licensed source, or the actual cost of care chosen by the custodial parent.

Does the amount of time a child spends with each parent affect child support?

Yes. If a child spends more than 35 percent of overnights (128 overnights per year) with each parent, special guidelines are used to compute child support.

Is use of the guidelines required?

Child support guidelines do not apply when the parents have a monthly combined adjusted income in excess of $15,000. Otherwise, the result obtained by applying the guidelines is presumed to be correct. Departure from results obtained using the child support guidelines is permitted only when application of the guidelines would be unjust or inappropriate.

For example, the court may depart from the child support guidelines to cover the costs of reasonable and necessary educational programs for an academically challenged or gifted student who requires remedial tutoring or advanced programming to meet his or her particular educational needs.

Can a parent avoid owing child support by taking a lower paying job or choosing an alternative lifestyle?

A parent who chooses a life of poverty — for example, by taking a lower paying job — and makes a deliberate choice not to alter that status is “voluntarily impoverished.” Whether the parent decides to reduce his or her income in order to avoid paying child support or the parent chooses a frugal lifestyle for another reason doesn’t affect that parent’s obligation to the child. A parent must support his or her child, if the parent has, or reasonably could obtain, the means to do so. The law requires a parent who is able to do so to alter his or her chosen lifestyle if necessary to enable the parent to meet his or her support obligation.

What if the parties' combined income exceeds $15,000 per month?

Child support guidelines do not apply when the parents have a monthly combined adjusted income in excess of $15,000. In this situation, factors that should be considered when setting child support include the financial circumstances of the parties, their station in life, their age and physical condition, and expenses in educating the children.

Is child support affected by whether the child was born in or out of wedlock?

A child born out of wedlock is entitled to the same level of support as would be afforded to a child who is the product of a marriage.

Can child support be computed online?

The Maryland Department of Human Resources provides an online child support worksheet. However, this worksheet is not a substitute for the advice of an attorney, who can help apply to a particular case the legal definitions of sole custody or shared custody, actual income, adjusted actual income, work-related child care expenses, extraordinary medical expenses, and other terms used in computing child support.