The Child Support Administration is required by law to review the Child Support Guidelines every 4 years to ensure that application of the Child Support Guidelines results in appropriate child support awards. The Child Support Administration must report its findings and recommendations to the General Assembly. During the 2020 Legislative Session, the General Assembly passed changes to Maryland’s child support laws, some of which took effect on July 1, 2022. One year later, this post discusses the changes to Maryland’s child support laws and the impact of these developments.
Changes to the Child Support Guidelines
Effective July 1, 2022, the schedule of basic child support obligations increased for parents with a combined adjusted actual income greater than $19,200 per year. This change recognizes that the costs of raising children have increased.
Prior to July 1, 2022, the Child Support Guidelines provided a schedule of basic child support obligations for parents with a combined adjusted actual income between $100 and $15,000 per month. Under the old version of the statute, the court was authorized to use its discretion to set the amount of child support when the combined adjusted actual income of the parents exceeded $15,000 per month. For parents with a combined adjusted actual income between $100 and $1,200 per month, the old version of the statute provided a basic child support obligation of $20 to $150 per month, based on resources and living expenses of the obligor and the number of children due support.
The new version of Md. Code, Fam. Law § 12-204, which took effect on July 1, 2022, now provides a schedule of basic child support obligations for parents with a combined adjusted actual income up to $30,000 per month, or $360,000 per year. By doubling the income threshold, the General Assembly has ensured that more parents will fall within the schedule set forth in the child support statute. For parents with a combined adjusted actual income between $15,001 and $30,000 per month, this means that child support awards will be more predictable because the court must apply the guidelines to set the amount of child support, whereas the court had to use its discretion to set child support for parents in that income range prior to the new version of the statute taking effect. The court may still use its discretion to set the amount of child support when the parents’ combined adjusted actual income exceeds $30,000 per month.
There is a presumption that the amount of child support resulting from application of the guidelines is the correct amount to be awarded, but that presumption can be rebutted if application of the guidelines would be unjust or inappropriate. In making this determination, the court can consider the terms of any existing settlement agreement or court order, including any provisions for the payment of mortgages or marital debts, payment of college expenses, the terms of any use and possession order or agreement regarding the right to occupy the family home, any direct payments made for the benefit of the children required by court order or agreement, or any other financial considerations contained in an existing settlement agreement or court order. The court may also consider the presence in the household of either parent of other children to whom that parent owes a duty of support and the expenses for whom that parent is directly contributing. If the court finds that applying the guidelines would be unjust or inappropriate, the court may deviate from the guidelines and order a different amount of child support.
Maryland’s new child support laws also include changes which may impact parents with lower incomes. Now, all incomes between $0 and $30,000 per month have a specific basic child support obligation listed in the schedule. In determining whether application of the guidelines would be unjust or inappropriate in a particular case, the new version of Md. Code, Fam. Law § 12-202 also allows a court to consider whether an obligor’s child support obligation would leave that parent with a monthly actual income less than 110% of the federal poverty level for an individual ($1,145 per month). The updates to Maryland’s child support laws also include a definition of “self-support reserve,” which is “the adjustment to a basic child support obligation ensuring that a child support obligor maintains a minimum amount of monthly income, after payment of child support, federal and state income taxes, and Federal Insurance Contribution Act taxes, of at least 110% of the 2019 federal poverty level of an individual.” Md. Code, Fam. Law § 12-201(n). The schedule of basic child support obligations included in the new version of Md. Code, Fam. Law § 12-204 now indicates when the guidelines amount has been adjusted by the self-support reserve. These changes are intended to encourage compliance with child support orders by allowing the obligor to retain a minimum amount of their income to meet their own needs after paying child support.
Court May Decline to Establish a Child Support Order
The 2022 changes to Maryland’s child support laws also increased the ability of a court to decline to order child support in specific circumstances. The new version of Md. Code, Fam. Law § 12-202, which took effect on July 1, 2022, specifically allows a court to decline to order child support if the parent who would have the obligation to pay child support lives with and is contributing to the support of the child who would be the subject of the child support order.
Additionally, a court may now decline to establish a child support order if the parent who would have the obligation to pay child support is unemployed, has no financial resources to pay child support, and one of the following:
- is incarcerated and is expected to remain incarcerated for the remainder of the time that the parent would have a legal duty to support the child;
- is institutionalized in a psychiatric care facility and is expected to remain institutionalized for the remainder of the time that the parent would have a legal duty to support the child;
- is totally and permanently disabled, is unable to obtain or maintain employment, and has no income other than Supplemental Security Income or Social Security disability insurance benefits; or
- is unable to obtain or maintain employment in the foreseeable future due to compliance with criminal detainment, hospitalization, or a rehabilitation treatment plan.
Definition of Voluntary Impoverishment
The new version of Md. Code, Fam. Law § 12-201 includes a definition of voluntary impoverishment. “‘Voluntarily impoverished’ means that a parent has made the free and conscious choice, not compelled by factors beyond the parent’s control, to render the parent without adequate resources.” Md. Code, Fam. Law § 12-201(q). However, voluntary impoverishment is not a new concept. Prior to the definition being added to the statute, voluntary impoverishment was a concept developed by caselaw.
If a parent is voluntarily impoverished, that parent’s potential income (rather than actual income) can be used to calculate child support. Potential income is income attributed to a parent based on the parent’s employment potential and probable earnings level, the parent’s assets, the parent’s actual income from all sources, and any other factor bearing on the parent’s ability to obtain funds for child support. The new version of the statute also elaborates on the factors a court should consider when attributing potential income to a parent who is voluntarily impoverished.
The factors the court will apply to determine a parent’s employment potential and probable earnings level include, but are not limited to, the following:
- the parent’s:
- physical and behavioral condition;
- educational attainment;
- special training or skills;
- occupational qualifications and job skills;
- employment and earnings history;
- record of efforts to obtain and retain employment;
- criminal record and other employment barriers; and
- employment opportunities in the community where the parent lives, including:
- the status of the job market;
- prevailing earnings levels; and
- the availability of employers willing to hire the parent.
If you are involved in a child support case, contact us to schedule a telephone consultation with an experienced family law attorney at Silverman Thompson who can assist you throughout the process.
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