Calculating child support and modifying child support are two difficult concepts that tend to invoke a bit of confusion. To simplify and define each, this article first discusses how child support is calculated and then how child support can be modified.

Frequently parents are confused by the child support calculation when considering their other bills and obligations. What many don’t realize is that in nearly all scenarios, the amount of child support ordered is determined by a calculator, and factors such as “I have student loans” or “I have rent to pay” don’t necessarily matter.

Maryland uses a Child Support Guideline formula to calculate child support.  Both parents are required to complete a financial statement which outlines the various components of that formula.  First, the parents identify their actual monthly income.  This would include salary, Social Security benefits, alimony, etc.  Second, the parents then identify earlier child support or alimony obligations – per court order – which will reduce their actual monthly income.  This is called their adjusted monthly income.  Third, if there are any work related child care expenses, health insurance expenses, or extraordinary medical expenses such as braces, those will also be identified by both parents.

Once both parties have identified the above, the formula then predicts what percentage of the parents combined income would have been attributed to the child(ren) had they continued living together.  This number is then used to determine the “basic child support obligation.”  The additional factors such as work-related child care and health insurance are incorporated to determine the “total child support obligation” that the non-custodial parent would be responsible for paying to the custodial parent.  Some exceptions exist, such as, if a parent receives Social Security income, food stamps, or transitional services which would not be considered actual monthly income.

After you’ve received the child support order, then what? Often, we meet with clients that don’t know they can request a change to their previous custody or support order.  For example, a child support order from ten years ago is likely very different than a child support order today.  What if one parent has a new job?  What if the child has new needs?  What if one parent lost their job?  There are many changes that may occur that make it necessary for you to modify your court order.

The key element of a modification is that there must be a material change in circumstance.  A parent getting a new job but maintaining a similar salary or moving to another home in the same neighborhood are generally not considered a material change in circumstance.  However, in many cases situations do arise which require one parent to seek a modification.  Parents come to our office because one parent has received a significant raise, has moved far away, or has started a relationship with a questionable person.  When these material changes occur, the court can then evaluate whether the original order is still in the best interests of your child. If the court determines it is not, then the above child support calculation is reused to determine what the new amount ought to be.