Ask them, and almost every parent will tell you that raising a child (or multiple children) can be an expensive endeavor. In fact, according to the United States Department of Agriculture, the national average cost to raise a toddler is upwards of $16,000 annually. It’s no wonder when you consider all the things a parent might pay for in a child’s lifetime: food, clothing, housing, education, medical needs, sports and other activities, weddings…the list goes on, and on. Keeping up with such expenses in a two-parent household can be overwhelming, let alone if you are in a single parent household. And biological parents in Maryland have a legal obligation to support their children based on their financial ability to do so. Since the early 90’s, Maryland has had laws and guidelines in effect to calculate child support based on each parent’s gross income. Learning how child support works and how it’s awarded is an important step you should take if you are either in need of or find yourself in the position of having to pay child support.
When do the Courts become involved?
Child support is rarely an issue that the courts become involved in during a marriage or other committed relationship. However, they will get involved if parents divorce or stop living together with their children as a family. The courts will help decide how much the custodial parent should receive from the non-custodial parent on a monthly basis. The custodial parent is the one who primarily resides with the child; the non-custodial parent does not, though he or she may have certain visitation rights, which are determined in the custody agreement. Like custody, child support can be decided either by an agreement between the parents or by fighting it out in front of a judge. However even with an agreement a judge could order a different amount if it’s determined that the amount agreed upon is not in the child’s best interest.
How is the amount of child support determined?
All states have their own child support guidelines that are based on a goal of ensuring that children have the benefit of the same amount of financial resources that they would have if the family were still intact. First is either agreeing upon or having a court determine whether one parent has primary custody or if there will be a shared custody arrangement. The guidelines then take into consideration the total number of children in the household, the amount of time the child(ren) spend with each parent, daycare expenses, extraordinary medical expenses (such as when a child has a medical condition that generates more than the ordinary amount of expense), and the cost of health insurance for the child(ren) only. Provided the parents’ income falls within the guidelines, and based on the formula developed by the Maryland legislature, these values are plugged into a child support calculator which then determines how much each parent must contribute towards the support of the child resulting in an amount to be paid by one parent to the other.
A Child Support Order is then issued which outlines the court-ordered terms of the child support agreement. The order will outline a payment schedule for the non-custodial parent- including the amount and date each payment is to be made to the custodial parent. Child support is usually lower if the non-custodial parent retains custody of the child for at least 35% of the time. Child Support Orders are an enforceable Order of the Court; as such, any parent who is not paid child support according to the agreement can use the legal tools available to enforce the order (wage garnishments, wage assignments, contempt of court decrees, and property seizure). Child Support Orders are generally enforceable until the child turns 18, dies, or is emancipated (becomes independent of his or her parents’). However, Maryland law does require that child support continues even after the child turns 18 if that child is still enrolled in high school.
It is an often-stated myth that parents who receive child support have to provide an accounting to either the court or the paying parent of how the child support funds are used. This is not the case. Since the custodial parents are known to be incurring expenses for the day-to-day care of the children, such as ensuring there is a roof over their head, electric, food, clothing, etc. (as discussed in the first paragraph), the guidelines have already taken into consideration these expenses incurred by the custodial parent and the paying parent is deemed to be contributing to these expenses in addition to the support the non-custodial parent provides to the children while they are having their access with them as well.
As with any aspect of a situation that involves the custody or support of minor children, you should be sure that you have skilled and knowledgeable representation at your side. One of Ferrante and Dill’s founding partners, Jennifer Dill, has been recognized as one of the most distinguished Family Law attorneys in Southern Maryland. She has been selected by Super Lawyer’s Magazine as not only a “Super Lawyer” but one of the Top 50 Women Lawyers in Maryland. Call her today to set up a consultation! (410) 535-6100 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.