When one parent is awarded child support, the court will enter an initial order that sets the terms and the amount. The court order is not unchangeable though. It may be modified one or more times before the child support obligation terminates. Each parent may file for a modification if circumstances materially change. Further, if the paying parent (the “obligor”) does not keep up with his/her child support obligation, the parent who is to receive support (the “obligee”) may pursue certain steps to enforce the order.
The amount of child support is determined based on the incomes of both the parents and expenses of the children. If you have legal issues that relate to child support after an initial order has been entered, Brodsky Renehan Pearlstein & Bouquet can assist, as we routinely handle child support matters.
Parents May Petition for a Child Support Modification
In Maryland, child support is based on a statutory formula that considers a number of factors, including the number of children, parents’ incomes, and the children’s expenses and needs. Parent’s incomes are subject to change over the years in either direction. Likewise, a child’s needs may change.
Pursuing a modification of child support follows the same general steps as a custody modification:
- The parent who is moving for the modification must show that there has been a material change in circumstances and
- The modification must be in the best interests of the child(ren).
Material Changes in Circumstances in a Child Support Modification Case
Not every change in income will be considered material enough for the court to modify a child support award. For example, an annual cost of living increase of several percent would not be a large enough change in income to warrant a modification. On the other hand, many years of compounded annual raises, or a new job with a significant pay hike, may support a modification.
There is no hard and fast rule about what change in income could justify a modification. It will ultimately be up to judge to make that determination.
A parent may also seek a modification if he/she is making less money. If one parent lost a job or has been forced to take a significant pay cut, he/she may petition the court to reduce child support. However, if the parent quits his/her job, intentionally tries to earn less, or is underemployed to pay a lower child supportthat parent may be deemed voluntarily impoverished. And, if the court determines that a parent is voluntarily impoverished, the court will impute income to that parent, as if he/she is earning an income or a higher income.
In determining a new amount of child support, the court will apply the same Maryland Child Support Guidelines that were applied in setting the initial court order. If the parents earn a total combined income of up to $360,000, the Court would need a significant reason to deviate from the Guidelines.
The Child’s Needs May Change Over Time
Child support does not only encompass the direct payment from one parent to another. The Court may also require parents to pay toward direct expenses for the children related to educational, medical, work-related childcare, and transportation needs, as well as health and dental insurance coverage. If these expenses change (whether they decrease, increase, disappear, or are incurred for the first time), such a change may be enough to warrant a modification.
Like everything else, the test for child support is whether the modification is in the best interests of the children. However, child support also depends on a parent’s ability to pay it. A court may not order a parent to pay tens of thousands of dollars for a private education when they are not earning much more than that.
How to Pursue a Child Support Modification
Here is how one may pursue a child support modification:
- The parent seeking a modification files a Motion for Modification in the original court case; stating the basis for the request for modification.
- A Summons is issued by the Court.
- The Summons and Motion must be served on the other parent.
- The other parent must file an Answer to the Motion and may file a Cross-Motion if he/she also believes a modification is warranted.
- Each parent must file a Financial Statement (the parent seeking a modification with his/her Motion and the responding parent with his/her Answer). The type of Financial Statement will depend on whether the parties’ total combined income exceeds $360,000.
- If the parents are unable to resolve the issues on their own, through counsel, or in mediation, they will appear before a magistrate or judge for a hearing.
The Court will then issue a new child support order if warranted.
All Child Support Agreements Should Be in Writing and Set Forth in a Court Order
Oral agreements are tough to prove, and enforcement of a child support agreement is limited if a child support award is not made part of a court order.
If both parents agree on a change in child support, they should submit a proposed new order to the court.
Enforcing Child Support When There Is Non-Payment
If the obligor parent does not pay child support (or does not pay it in full), the other parent should take action. Maryland courts and governmental agencies take a parent’s obligation to pay child support very seriously. If a parent falls behind on his/her child support, he/she will face significant consequences. One potential penalty for failure to pay child support is the suspension or loss of a driver’s license. In addition, a non-paying parent may lose his/her ability to get a passport. A parent’s tax refund may be garnished by the Maryland Child Support Enforcement Administration and the amount received credited toward the obligor’s arrears.
There are other serious punishments when a parent acts through the legal system. Parents have several options to enforce a child support order, including:
- Filing for contempt of court for willful failure to pay child support,
- Contacting the Maryland Child Support Enforcement Administration for help with enforcing the child support order;
- Pursuing a wage or bank account garnishment to collect child support arrears.
Most importantly, a parent may go to jail if he/she is found in contempt for not paying child support.
Contact a Maryland Child Support Modification and Enforcement Lawyer Today
You should contact an experienced attorney when faced with a potential child support modification, regardless of whether you are the one petitioning or responding. The court’s ruling may have a significant financial impact on you for years to come. If your case proceeds to court, you need an experienced litigator. You should not try to litigate a child support modification case on your own. To speak with a child support modification and enforcement attorney, contact BRP Family Law today.