In Maryland, as in every state, parents are expected to provide for their children, with each parent taking a part of the financial responsibility that comes with raising a child. Unfortunately, there is considerable confusion about the purpose of child support, how child support is calculated, and other issues related to child support. In this post, we seek to address some of the more common misconceptions about child support.
Calculating Child Support: Understanding the Foundation Upon Which Child Support is Based
Courts do not simply pick a random number out of the air when determining the appropriate amount of child support. Instead, the courts rely on the Maryland Child Support Guidelines, unless a party can establish the guidelines calculation would result in an inappropriate or unjust result.
Courts first consider each parent’s total monthly income before taxes. Monthly income is calculated by considering salary, hourly wages, tips, Social Security benefits, worker’s compensation benefits, bonuses, and alimony. It also includes self-employment income, rent, business income, commissions, royalties, unemployment benefits, income from side jobs, capital gains, lottery winnings, gifts, prizes, and severance pay, along with other types of income. However, courts do not consider means-tested public assistance programs, such as food stamps, Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and temporary cash assistance for the purpose of calculating child support. Next, the court will adjust each parent’s income to account for other child support obligations, as well as alimony obligations.
The court also considers the following expenses related to the children:
- The monthly cost of health insurance premiums
- The monthly cost of child care expenses that are related to the parent’s work schedule or their job search
- Extraordinary monthly medical expenses for a child, if applicable
- Cost of school, as well as transportation costs related to the children attending school.
Extraordinary medical expenses are typically considered uninsured expenses that exceed $100 for a single condition or illness. Examples of extraordinary medical expenses include:
- Dental treatments
- Asthma treatments
- Treatment for chronic health problems
- Physical therapy
- Professional counseling and
- Psychiatric therapy.
Calculating Child Support: When One Spouse Chooses Voluntarily Unemployment
Sometimes, one spouse thinks they can cheat the system by simply refusing to work. After all, the reasoning goes, if there is no income, surely there can be no child support ordered. This reasoning, however, is incorrect. The law allows courts to consider each case individually. If a person is capable of working, but chooses not to work, the court may calculate child support as if the person was actually working. In legal terms, “imputing income.” Before the court imputes income, they must make a determination the parent chooses “voluntarily impoverishment.” Courts consider such things as:
- The physical health of the unemployed parent
- Their level of education
- Their ability to earn money
- Prior work history as well as
- Any efforts made by the unemployed parent to find work.
When the court finds a parent chooses voluntarily impoverishment, the court performs the child support calculation as if the parent was making a predetermined amount of income.
Calculating Child Support: The Child Support Calculation Itself
Once the court has all the information, they calculate child support. First, the court, relying on the child support guidelines, estimates the total percentage of income the parents would spend on their children if the parents were actually living together. They rely on the parents’ actual income and their adjusted income (or, in the case of voluntary impoverishment, their imputed income). The court takes the combined amount of both parents’ adjusted incomes and plugs this information into the Child Support Guidelines. This determines “the “basic child support obligation.” Next, the court calculates the additional expenses related to the child, including the cost of health insurance, daycare, and, where applicable, extraordinary medical expenses. This sum is the “total child support obligation.”
Courts assign a percentage of the total child support obligation to the custodial parent. Courts assign the balance of the child support obligation to the non-custodial parent.
Calculating Child Support: Deviations from Child Support Guidelines
While the court may deviate from the Child Support Guidelines, calculating a lower obligation than that recommended by the guidelines is relatively rare. When a party requests a lower obligation, they must establish whey the Guidelines amount is an injustice or somehow unfair. They must also prove the lower payment is in the best interests of the child. When the parents combined income is greater than $15,000 a month, however, the court may set the child support amount as they see fit, based on the needs of the children.
Calculating Child Support: Understanding Custody for Child Support Purposes
In many divorce cases, one parent has primary physical custody of the children, called the “custodial parent.” The parent who does not have primary physical custody of the children is referred to as the “non-custodial parent.” The non-custodial parent pays child support. In some families, however, the parents have “shared physical custody.” Shared physical custody, under the laws in Maryland, refers to a situation where each parent has the children in their care overnight for more than 35% of the calendar year. (This calculates to 127 nights a year.) In shared physical custody cases, the court takes into consideration how often the child is at each parent’s home.
Are You Considering a Divorce?
If you are considering divorce, and have children, you may find yourself paying or receiving child support. A proper child support calculation is essential. Contact the attorneys at Fait & DiLima to discuss your divorce needs. We focus our practice exclusively on family law and divorce cases. Together we can plan a divorce that is suitable for your needs and the needs of your family. Call today at (301) 251-0100.