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Is There an “Upper Limit” for Child Support Awards in Maryland/DC Divorces?

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Yes. Under both Maryland and DC divorce statutes, it can be said that there is an “upper limit” of how much child support that a divorce court can order. Why? Because in both Maryland and DC, awards of child support are calculated based on statutory guidelines that are explicitly tied to the couple’s joint annual income. Thus, for a couple making $75,000 a year, there is a “maximum” award based on the guidelines (although divorce court judges have some discretion to go higher under unique circumstances). Note, however, that in Maryland, the “upper limit” is more flexible for couples with a combined income of more than $360,000 per year.

Background

Generally speaking, child support obligations are payments made by a non-custodial parent to the custodial parent for the support of the child or children of the marriage. In a technical sense, under both Maryland and DC statutes, support payments are “owed” to the child/children but, for obvious reasons, are paid to the custodial parent.

Statutory guidelines

In both Maryland and DC, awards of child support are calculated based on statutory guidelines. In Maryland, the guidelines apply to any couple who have a combined gross monthly income of $30,000 (or less) as of July 1, 2022. Until that date, the Maryland guidelines apply to a couple with a combined gross monthly income of $15,000 or less ($180,000 annually). For couples with income exceeding the maximum amount listed in the guidelines, the divorce court will start with the child support amount set forth in the guidelines for the highest income and then adjust upwards the child support award based on the facts of the case and the court’s judgment and discretion.

In DC, the guidelines apply to all couples regardless of income level.

In general, the guidelines in both jurisdictions set out the “total child support” that the couple – jointly – “owes” for the support of their child or children. As an example, without including deductions and other offsets, assuming only one child and assuming the custodial parent has full custody, in Maryland, a couple with joint income of $180,000 per year would jointly owe about $23,500 per year. See online calculator/estimator here. In DC, the same couple would owe about $26,500 per year. See DC calculator here.

Division of the total child custody award

Once the “total child custody” amount is determined pursuant to the guidelines, then the total amount is divided between the parents based on their respective incomes. So, if both parents are making the same amount, then they will “split” the child support obligation. If one parent makes twice as much as the other, then, in general, that parent will pay twice as much child support. The custodial parent will “pay” their child support by providing what is normally provided when a child or children is living with a parent like food, clothes, housing, transportation, entertainment, utilities, etc. The non-custodial parent pays their child support by “writing a check.”

Possible adjustments

As noted, however, there is a long list of deductions and offsets that are included in the statutory formulas under both statutes for determining what is “income.” Further, courts have discretion to adjust the amount paid and received based on a number of factors including:

  • The number of children and other children for whom a parent might be responsible for supporting
  • Whether custody is 100% or shared
  • Number of overnight stays that each parent is awarded
  • Whether one parent or the other pays for health insurance/other medical expenses
  • Which parent pays for childcare (if any)
  • Amount paid (and by whom) for the primary residence – that is, if there is a mortgage/rent, which parent is paying for that
  • Who pays for private school tuition (if any)
  • Expenses unique to one parent or the other
  • And more

Maryland and D.C. Divorce and Family Law Attorneys

For more information, contact the seasoned and experienced Maryland and D.C. divorce, family law and estate planning attorneys at The Law Offices of Thomas Stahl. We have the experience and expertise you need. Schedule a consultation today or call us at (410) 696-4326 or (202) 964-7280.

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