In family law and public policy, child support (or child maintenance) is an ongoing, periodic payment made by a parent for the financial benefit of a child following the end of a marriage or other relationship. Since 1990, Maryland has had child support guidelines in effect, which provide a formula for calculating child support based on a proportion of each parent’s gross income. These guidelines are applied unless a party can show that application of the guidelines would be unjust and inappropriate in a particular case. Child maintenance is paid directly or indirectly by an obligor to an obligee for the care and support of children of a relationship that has been terminated, or in some cases never existed. Often the obligor is a non-custodial parent. The obligee is typically a custodial parent, a caregiver, a guardian, or the state.
Depending on the jurisdiction, a custodial parent may pay child support to a non-custodial parent. Typically one has the same duty to pay child support irrespective of sex, so a mother is required to pay support to a father just as a father must pay a mother. Where there is joint custody, the child is considered to have two custodial parents and no non-custodial parents, and a custodial parent with a higher income (obligor) may be required to pay the other custodial parent (obligee).
In family law, child support is often arranged as part of a divorce, marital separation, dissolution of marriage, annulment, determination of parentage or dissolution of a civil union and may supplement alimony (spousal support) arrangements
Child support may be ordered to be paid by one parent to another when one is a non-custodial parent and the other is a custodial parent. Similarly, child support may also be ordered to be paid by one parent to another when both parents are custodial parents (joint or shared custody) and they share the child-raising responsibilities. In some cases, a parent with sole custody of his or her children may even be ordered to pay child support to the non-custodial parent to support the children while they are in the care of that parent.
Child support vs. contact
While the issues of child support and visitation or contact may settlement, in most jurisdictions the two rights and obligations are completely separate and individually enforceable. Custodial parents may not withhold contact to “punish” a noncustodial parent for failing to pay some or all child support required. Conversely, a noncustodial parent is required to pay child support even if they are partially or fully denied contact with the child.
Additionally, a non-custodial parent is responsible for child support payments even if they do not wish to have a relationship with the child. Courts have maintained that a child’s right to financial support from parents supersedes an adult’s wish not to assume a parenting role.
While child support and contact are separate issues, in some jurisdictions, the latter may influence the former.
Use of Child Support Payments
Support monies collected are expected to be used for the child’s expenses, including food, clothing, and educational needs. They are not meant to be used as “spending money” for the child. Courts have held that it is unacceptable for child support payments to be used to directly benefit the custodial parent.
Child support orders may earmark funds for specific items for the child, such as school fees, day care, and medical expenses. In some cases, obligors parents may pay for these items directly. For example, they may pay tuition fees directly to their child’s school, rather than remitting money for the tuition to the obligee.
In divorce cases, child support payments may be determined as part of the divorce settlement, along with other issues, such as alimony, custody and visitation. In other cases, there are several steps that must be undertaken to receive court-ordered child support.
While procedures vary by jurisdiction, the process of filing a motion for court ordered child support typically has several basic steps.
- One parent, or his or her attorney, must appear at the local magistrate or courthouse to file an application or complaint for the establishment of child support. The information required generally collects identifying data about both parents and the child(ren) involved in the case, including their names, social security or tax identification numbers and dates of birth. Parents may also be required to furnish details relating to their marriage and divorce, if applicable, as well as documents certifying the identity and parentage of the child(ren). Local jurisdictions may charge fees for filing such applications, however, if the filing parent is receiving any sort of public assistance, these fees may be waived. The other parent is located, and served a court summons by a local sheriff, police officer, or process server.
- The summons informs the other parent that they are being sued for child support. Once served, the other parent must attend a mandatory court hearing to determine if they are responsible for child support payments.
- In cases where parentage of a child is denied, has not been established by marriage or is not listed on the birth certificate, or where paternity fraud is suspected, courts may order or require establishment of paternity. Paternity may be established voluntarily if the father signs an affidavit or may be proven through DNA testing in contested cases. Once the identity of the father is confirmed through DNA testing, the child’s birth certificate may be amended to include the father’s name.
- After the responsibility for child support is established and questions of paternity have been answered to the court’s satisfaction, the court will notify the obligor and order that parent to make timely child support payments and establish any other provisions, such as medical orders.
Calculating the Amount
Maryland’s guidelines attempt to estimate the percentage of income that parents would spend on children if the parents were living in the same household. Maryland’s guidelines use the following steps to determine a child support obligation:
- Each parent’s actual monthly income is determined. If a parent is not working and has no other form of income, the court can still assign income if it finds that the parent has the ability to work. Each parent’s actual or assigned income can sometimes be reduced by the parent’s other child support or alimony obligations or the parent’s costs of providing health insurance for a child.
- Both parents’ incomes or potential incomes are added together. This combined number is used to determine from the guidelines a basic child support obligation for the combined income.
- The non-custodial parent is then obligated to pay a percentage share of the combined income to the custodial parent. If the parents share custody, the amount of the child support obligation may be less.
- A court can also order that the non-custodial parent pay an additional amount for certain medical, school, transportation and day care expenses and for health insurance for a child.
When Does Child Support End
Under new law in Maryland effective October 1, 2002, if a child turns age 18 while still enrolled in high school, the child support obligation can be extended by the Court until either the child graduates from high school, or age 19, whichever is first. Otherwise, child support terminates when the child turns age 18.
For child support orders entered before the new law went into effect on October 1, 2002, one party must file a request with the Court in order to extend the child support obligation beyond age 18.
Although the law sets limits on the duration of child support, parents can agree to go beyond those limits in a Custody or Separation Agreement, such as by agreeing to contribute toward college education expenses. In such event, the Court will enforce the parties’ agreement pay child support beyond what is legally required.
With the Law Offices of Anthony C. DePastina, we know that any matter relating to family law or divorce is emotional and difficult. We work with our clients to make sure that they understand the legal ramifications of their actions and their rights under the law. Where the opportunity presents itself, our attorneys advocate an appropriate settlement that recognizes the facts of the case and the rights of the parties. When settlement is not possible, we zealously represent our clients in court and work to achieve the best result possible.