Child support is the payment by parents for the support, maintenance, and care of their minor children. Child support is owed to the children. However, because minor children cannot handle the funds themselves and require a parent to feed, house, and clothe them, the payments are made to the custodial parent and are earmarked for the specific use of caring for their children. The law requires that the legal parents pay child support to their children via the custodial parent or guardian. The legal parents are the parents listed on the birth certificate of a child, the adoptive parents, or the husband of a mother at the time of the birth (the husband is presumed to be the father).
The Maryland law uses “child support guidelines” to calculate the amount that the parents are responsible to pay for the care and maintenance of their children. The child support guidelines use a table approved by the state legislature. The amount is determined by calculating the total joint adjusted gross income of the parties. (This amount is adjusted for alimony paid or received and child support paid.) Each party is assigned a percentage of their share of the joint income. For example, if the mother earns $30,000 per year and the father earns $70,000 per year, the total joint adjusted gross income will be $100,000 with the mother being responsible for 30% and the father, 70%.
Once the joint income is calculated, the monthly income is referenced in the statutory table against the number of children. This number is considered the basic child support obligation. If there is ‘shared physical custody’ (each parent has at least 35% of the overnights with the children), then the basic child support amount is multiplied by 1.5. Then, other expenses are added to the base figure, including any medical insurance premiums paid by either of the parties, extraordinary medical expenses, work-related child care expenses, miscellaneous other expenses including tuition, and cash medical support. The aggregate of the base amount plus these additional expenses is the ‘total child support obligation.’
In sole physical custody scenarios, the total child support is multiplied by the percentage of the gross income that each parent is responsible for. Then, credit is given for “direct payment” of each parent (for example, if the children are on the father’s health insurance, he is given a credit for the premiums that he pays for the children’s benefit). Then, the direct child support obligation is arrived at by determining the base amount less any direct-pay credits.
In a shared custody situation, the calculation is similar except the total child support obligation is also multiplied by the percentage of overnights that each parent has the children in a given year before it is multiplied by the percent that each parent earns in income. Also, expenses are paid by percent of income. So, if the mother pays 100% of the daycare but has 35% of the joint income, she would be responsible for 35% of the day care costs and the husband would be responsible to reimburse the mother for 65% of the day care costs in addition to his share of the basic child support obligation.
There are several ‘online calculators’ that offer child support calculations. However, the amounts are updated often, and underwent a significant overhaul in 2010. Many of the online calculators are incorrect. There are also multiple variables to determine what the correct amount of support should be.
Common areas of dispute include the parents’ income (e.g., if one parent is self employed or is paid on commissions) and what constitute expenses to be included in the calculation. The law only provides for joint incomes of up to $15,000 per month–after that the support amount is in the judge’s discretion–so for families with high income earners, there can be disagreement about how much child support is appropriate. As with any consideration dealing with children, the court will consider what is in the children’s best interests.