Once a court issues a child support order, it becomes a valid and enforceable order until one of the following events occurs, resulting in a potential change in child support: The child
- Reaches the age of 18 (except in unusual circumstances, where child support is ordered for a longer period of time
- Supports themselves
- Joins the armed forces
- Dies or
- The child support order is modified
However, even when one of these events occurs, with the exception of when the child ages out, a change in child support is not automatic. Instead, one must specifically request a modification in child support from the court.
1. Circumstances May Allow a Change in Child Support
There are a few different circumstances that may allow for a change in child support. At the outset it must be stated, just because a parent thinks they are paying too much in child support, or a parent thinks they are not getting enough in child support, this is not a reason for the court to modify a previous order of child support.
However, there are situations where there have been changes in the circumstances that existed at the time child support was first calculated. These changes may be a legitimate basis to modify an existing child support order.
2. Changes in Income Can Result in a Change in Child Support
When a parent’s income changes, this may be a basis for a change in child support. However, not any change in income will be sufficient to change the amount of child support owed or received. Typically, a change in income of 25 % or more is considered sufficient to change a child support order. This is true for both increases and decreases in income – for either parent.
When a parent’s income changes significantly, which may happen due to a promotion, a new job, or just simply in smaller increments over time, this can be a basis for a modification in child support. Similarly, if a parent’s income decreases substantially, this may be a basis to modify child support. However, this is not always the case, as discussed below.
3. Changes in a Child’s Needs Can Result in a Change in Child Support
As children grow, their needs change. For example, as a child gets older, their needs tend to be more expensive to meet. This may justify an increase in child support payments. If a child becomes sick, or a child becomes disabled, this may require an increase in the amount of child support a parent is assessed.
Similarly, if a child’s needs reduce, child support may decrease. For example, if a child no longer needs a special tutor for school, no longer needs intensive therapies, or some other expense is outgrown or no longer needed, a reduction in child support may be appropriate.
4. Changes, in General, Can Result in a Change in Child Support
Changes in child support are always fact specific in nature. What may be a sufficient raise to justify a change in child support for one family may not be sufficient to justify a change in another family’s case. Before deciding whether or not a request for child support modification is viable, one should speak with a qualified family law attorney to discuss the facts and circumstances of their specific case.
5. Circumstances May Not Always Allow a Change in Child Support
While, as a general rule, a reduction in income is a basis to request a modification of child support, this is not always the case. If a parent quits a job in an attempt to avoid paying child support, for example, this will not excuse them of their obligation. Deliberately reducing or eliminating income to avoid child support is called “voluntary impoverishment” in Maryland. Courts look to the following factors when determining whether someone chooses voluntary impoverishment:
- The parent’s physical condition
- The parent’s level of education
- Their efforts to get a new job
- Efforts obtaining training or further education
- The timing of any changes in employment
- Past work history and
- Other factors the court deems appropriate to consider
If the court decides a person is voluntarily impoverished, they will order child support continue as if the person was making income – this is called “imputing income.”
6. The Wrong Way to Change Child Support
Typically in Maryland, one parent pays child support directly to the other parent. Some parents “unofficially” change their child support by agreement. For example, if one parent is going through a difficult time financially, they may ask the other parent for a break on their child support payments. The other parent may agree to this change temporarily. Doing so off the record, however, is a bad idea. There is the potential for misunderstandings and miscommunications that could lead to different versions of the same agreement later.
The better way to handle a difficult time is to modify the child support arrangement with the court and on the record. Often, parents don’t think of all possible ways such an agreement can go wrong. A family law attorney, having familiarity with other parents’ past mistakes, can make certain any temporary child support modification addresses any and all agreements, including whether or when the person paying less will return to full payments, and whether back child support will be owed.
7. If You Have Questions About Child Support
If you have questions about child support or other questions related to divorce or family law, contact the family law attorneys at Fait & DiLima. Our firm focuses exclusively on family law and divorce law. We maintain offices in Rockville, Maryland, and Frederick, Maryland, to serve our clients. We provide our clients with the benefit of over 50 years of combined family law experience. Our attorneys draw on our experience with our past cases, along with relevant case law and the Maryland Code to make certain our clients obtain the best results possible. Every divorce is different. Let us work with you to find solutions that work for you and your family. Contact us today.