I recently defended a modification of child support case (the father was seeking a decrease) in the Circuit Court for Howard County and after a hearing the Court determined there was not a material change in circumstance to warrant a modification of the child support currently being paid to my client.
I believe the concept of a ‘material change in circumstance’ can often be misinterpreted to mean ANY change in circumstance, and that is not the case. In this particular situation the parties divorced late 2009, and child support and non-modifiable alimony were calculated and agreed upon. At the time of divorce, the parties agreed to leave the alimony payment outside of the child support calculation and agreed to a slightly higher amount of child support as they believed it was in the children’s best interest. Less than a year later, the father (ex-husband) filed to modify child support, seeking a lower amount, alleging that he changed jobs and was earning less (about 5% less), his ex-wife was earning a small income, and alimony should now be incorporated into the child support guideline worksheet.
In the State of Maryland, the Court may modify a child support award subsequent to the filing of a motion for modification and upon a showing of a material change in circumstance, See Annotated Code of Maryland Family Law Article 12-104. The issue becomes what is a ‘material’ change in circumstance. A change has been determined to be ‘material’ when it meets two requirements (1) the change must be relevant to the level of support a child is actually receiving or entitled to receive, and (2) the change must be of a sufficient magnitude to justify judicial modification of the support order. Oftentimes, a change that affects the income pool used to calculate child support obligations upon which the child support award was based; incarceration of a parent; increase and/or decrease in parenting time; are all relevant to whether there has been a ‘material’ change in circumstance.
After a hearing in the child support modification case I spoke of above, the Court agreed with me that the circumstances had not materially changed such that a decrease in the child support was warranted. Because the change in the ex-husband’s income was relatively minor (the court determined the 5.7 percent change not material) and the income now earned by my client was minimal (the court determined the change not to be material), the only significant change would have been if the alimony payment was now included in the child support guideline. The Court decided not to include the alimony payment in the guideline as the parties had agreed to exclude same from the guideline at the time of the divorce and agreed the child support guideline at that time was in the children’s best interest.
For more information on child support matters contact an experienced family law attorney.