Voluntary Impoverishment in Maryland/D.C. Child Support Cases

Kid and Mother play Toys together

In both Maryland and the District of Columbia, parents have an obligation to support their children. When a divorce or other court assigns custody to one parent, the other non-custodial parent is expected — and ordered — to pay child support. In both Maryland and D.C., the amount of child support is established guidelines set out in statutes.

In some cases, though, parents attempt to evade their responsibilities for raising and supporting their children. One common method is called “voluntary impoverishment.” Generally, a parent cannot be expected or compelled to make child support payments if the parent has little income or insufficient income to pay the amount ordered. If this situation exists because of a parent’s voluntary choice, then the parent has become voluntarily impoverished. Maryland Family Law Code, §12–201(q), specifically defines “voluntarily impoverished” to mean that “… a parent has made the free and conscious choice, not compelled by factors beyond the parent’s control, to render the parent without adequate resources” to pay child support.

How does a Maryland/D.C. court evaluate claims of voluntary impoverishment?

In determining whether a parent is voluntarily impoverished, a Maryland/D.C. court will consider various faction questions, including:

  • The parent’s current physical condition
  • Level of education and training
  • Timing of any change in employment or financial circumstances
  • Relationship of the parents prior to the divorce proceedings
  • Efforts to find and retain employment
  • Efforts to secure retraining or schooling or other things helpful in finding employment/income
  • Whether the parent has ever withheld child support in the past and the circumstances that led to that
  • The parent’s past work history
  • Criminal record and/or any other barriers to employment
  • The geographic area where the parent lives and the status of the job market there
  • And more

No one factor is determinative, and since each case is unique, one or more factors may predominate in any given case. That being said, work history and past income are often given high importance by courts, particularly when courts make a subsequent determination about potential income.

What happens if the court makes a determination of voluntary impoverishment?

If the court makes a determination that a parent is voluntarily impoverished, the court will NOT allow the parent to avoid his or her child support obligations. Rather, the court will then make a determination of the parent’s potential — or imputed — income. It is from this determined “potential income” that the court then assigns the amount of child support that is due from the parent per the statutory guidelines.

A case in point is Mason v. Mason, an unreported case from Maryland. In that case, the mother stopped paying her ordered child support. She claimed that she was on disability and was unable to work. However, the court rejected her claims, pointing out that there was evidence that she had taken vacations and was, in fact, working and assisting others in their work. The court made a determination that she was voluntarily impoverished. Thereafter, the court determined that her potential income was about $42,000 a year. The court then ordered her to pay child support based on that imputed income.

Maryland And D.C. Family Law Attorneys

Contact the seasoned and experienced Maryland and D.C. family law lawyers at The Law Offices of Thomas Stahl for more information. We have the skills and expertise you need. We have proven experience with family law for Maryland and the District of Columbia. Schedule a consultation today or call us at (410) 696-4326 or (202) 964-7280. We have offices in Columbia, MD, and Washington, DC.

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