2021 will see 5 major changes to the child support guidelines, one of which introduces new Maryland law on the self-support reserve for low income parents for cases filed on and after October 1, 2021*.
The self-support reserve recognizes that parents at the lowest income levels require a basic amount of money to live on before being able to pay child support. The self-support reserve standardizes this calculation, while still allowing deviation in appropriate cases.
Laws current through September 30, 2021 allow the Court to use its discretion in calculating child support now at these lowest income levels. Either in the suggested amounts of $20-150 per month for combined parent monthly incomes of $100-$1,200 or to deviate from the guidelines (so, adjust) if applying the guidelines would be unjust or inappropriate.
Why did this come about? Because Maryland is legally required to review its child support guidelines every 4 years and because research has shown that child support orders for too high an amount in fact result in less child support actually being paid. Standardizing realistic child support at lower income levels should encourage payment of more support overall and simplify the calculation of child support. Reviews of low income child support cases showed that, despite the Court’s discretion and suggested lower support amounts, in more than 40% of cases awards were higher than $150 per month.
What tips should parents and attorneys keep in mind?
- Calculate and compare! If requesting child support in a lower income case, calculate and compare the 2020 to the 2021 guidelines.
- Be aware of filing deadlines*. The October 1, 2021 changes apply to cases filed on and after October 1, 2021. Not cases filed before.
- Use the 2021 guidelines as a reference point for the Court. If child support is discretionary or downward deviation/reduction requested, show the Court the 2021 guidelines as a reference point for the appropriate amount of support.
- Consider retroactivity. When weighing filing deadlines, consider that child support and changes to child support can only be awarded dating back to the date the request is filed with the court (Family Law Article §12-104)*.
- Consider material change if requesting a modification after October 1, 2021*. Per Maryland law, changes to the child support guidelines law are not, themselves alone, a material change in circumstance to justify a modification of child support (Maryland Code, Family Law Article §12-202(b)). Other material changes are needed to obtain a modification of child support. Make sure those changes exist and are stated in your Court filings. And if not and helpful to your position, point that out to the Court.
* Damon v. Robles, 245 Md.App. 233 (2020) provides an interesting and complicated discussion of when these exclusions may not apply. Worth a look if interested in applying October 1, 2021 changes to cases filed or circumstances existing before that date.
For other articles in this series about updates to the child support guidelines law in 2020 and 2021:
- 2020 Updates
- 2021 Updates
Since 2002, Lindsay Parvis has represented clients in Maryland custody, divorce, and marital matters. She negotiates, litigates, and advocates for the best interests of her clients, whether in contested litigation, uncontested settlement, or premarital and other agreements. Her clients are not only spouses and parents, but also children whose interests she is appointed by the court to represent in contested custody litigation. Lindsay strives to improve Maryland law in the General Assembly, volunteering her time to monitor, advocate, and educate about legislative developments in family law.