How Can Child Support Be Modified?
Legal Standard in Maryland
The amount of child support depends on several factors, but it is primarily based on the incomes of both parties and how many overnight stays the children have with each parent. Under Maryland law, the party seeking a modification must file a motion with the court and demonstrate a “material change of circumstance” since the last time the court considered the issue of child support. Maryland Code, Family Law, § 12-104(b).
Changes in circumstance are usually financial in nature. For a change of circumstance to be considered “material”, it must be relevant to the amount of support a child is receiving or entitled to receive, and must be of sufficient magnitude to justify a modification. Petitto v. Petitto, 147 Md. App. 280 (2002).
Material Change of Circumstance
A change in income is a common reason that child support modifications are sought and granted. While there is no bright line for determining whether a change in income is substantial enough for a modification, one indication is whether the parent’s standard of living is affected. If a parent has a higher standard of living now than when the child support amount was first established, their children are entitled to benefit from that. On the other hand, if there is a substantial decrease in a child support payor’s income, the court may find they are entitled to a reduction. A core belief underlying Maryland law, and that of many other states, is that the amount of child support should be generally consistent with parents’ standard of living.
Increased expenses relating to parents and children are also potential reasons for child support modifications. Changes to custody arrangements that cause significant changes in the parents’ child care expenses, including day care, could support a motion for modification. Changes in a child’s needs can also be the basis of a modification. For example, a new medical condition that causes extraordinary medical expenses, or the discovery of an educational need that prompts intervention.
To successfully modify child support, you must demonstrate a substantial change in the financial circumstances of either parent since the original child support award. Whether a court grants your motion for modification is highly situation-dependent.
Modification Will Not Be Retroactive
According to Maryland Code, Family Law, § 12-104(b), the court cannot retroactively modify a child support award prior to the date that the moving party filed the motion for modification. So if there was a material change of circumstance in March, but a motion was filed in August and granted in December, the modification can only apply back to August. For this reason, it is important to consult an attorney as soon as possible if you, the other parent, or your child(ren) experience a material change in circumstance.
Parties’ Prior Agreement
Even where the original child support amount was established by the parties’ agreement, perhaps at the time of divorce, the court still has jurisdiction over the issue and can consider whether a modification is warranted. Maryland courts have made clear that “child support is always subject to modification.”Corapcioglu v. Roosevelt, 170 Md. App. 572 (2006). After all, the best interests of the child are paramount.
Maryland Child Support Guidelines
The formula that calculates payments is found in Maryland’s child support guidelines, which apply when parents’ combined incomes is $15,000 per month or less. The court may deviate from the guidelines if it determines their application would be unjust or inappropriate in a particular case. If parents’ incomes are above that threshold, the court may use its discretion in extrapolating from the guidelines to determine an appropriate child support amount. In a case where there has been a material change of circumstance and the parties’ incomes are above the Maryland Guidelines, the court will determine a support amount by conducting a case-by-case assessment of the needs of the child(ren), taking into account many different factors.
Consulting an Experienced Attorney
For years, Bethany Shechtel, Esquire has guided clients through child support and custody matters. If you have questions about child support or any other family law issue, contact BGS Law today