Retroactive child support
When a court grants child support, it is free to grant such support retroactively to a previous date. Child support amounts that cover past time periods are called retroactive child support. The court is not free to order child support going back indefinitely. The court is free to go back only to the date of the child support petition. If the court grants retroactive child support, it will normally give the paying party credit for any child support payments that were made during such time.
When the court calculates child support, it will do so using the incomes of the parties. Sometimes the court may find that one party is deliberatively earning less money than that party could be earning, and that such party is doing so in order to affect the child support calculation. If the court draws this conclusion, then it will find that such party is “voluntarily impoverished” and, for purposes of calculating child support, it will impute to that party the income that the party is capable of making.
Child support arrears
If a person is ordered to pay child support and subsequently does not make all of the payments, or if the court awards retroactive child support, then that party will accumulate an “arrears,” which is an amount of child support payments that such person is behind. In such cases, the court will usually not order that the person pay all of the arrears at one time. Instead, it will usually order that the person pay an additional small amount of child support every month in order to make up the arrears. Such additional amount will automatically terminate when the arrears is satisfied.
Child support garnishment
A party receiving child support often requests that child support be garnished, or automatically withheld, from the paying party’s paychecks. In such a situation, the employer would withhold the child support amounts and send them to the Office of Child Support Enforcement, who would then forward them to the receiving party. A request for garnishment is often made in order to increase the reliability with which child support is paid. The court must order garnishment if it is requested.
When the court establishes child support, it does so with the intent that the support order will be permanent for the foreseeable future. Nevertheless, even after support has been established, support can be modified under the right circumstances. In order to modify child support, the party seeking to modify child support must prove two things:
- A substantial change in circumstances since the last child support order.
- The child’s best interests are served by changing child support.
Situations in which the court may find a substantial change in circumstances are numerous. Some examples are:
- A party’s income substantially decreases or increases.
- The child turns 18 or graduates from high school.
- There occurs a substantial change to the child’s health insurance, medical expense, private school tuition, or daycare expense.
Modification of child support is usually more difficult than initially establishing child support because the standard that the court must use is more difficult to meet. This higher standard for modifying child support is one reason why it is so important for a party to make sure that he or she does it right the first time by making a strong case when child support is being initially established.
Child support agreements
Parties often try to reach a written agreement on child support instead of allowing the court to decide it. Doing so has numerous advantages. It allows the parties to avoid the risk that the court will order child support with which the parties do not agree. It also allows the parties to save the time and expense associated with litigating their child support dispute all the way to trial. The parties must be careful when drafting such an agreement, however, because the court has the authority to disregard an agreement on child support if it finds that it violates the Maryland Child Support Guidelines or is otherwise not in the child’s best interests. An attorney can be extremely valuable in the negotiation and drafting of such an agreement.
In any case involving child support, both parties have the right to conduct discovery. Discovery is the process of compelling the other side to provide information that may help one’s case. Discovery can occur in several different ways, including with interrogatories, requests for documents, and depositions. Discovery can also include obtaining documents from outside sources like employers and financial institutions. Discovery can sometimes uncover information that the other party is trying to hide. In cases involving child support, discovery is extremely important because a lot of detailed information is required in order to make a persuasive case to the court.
Contempt of court
When the court orders child support and the other party fails to pay, then, in order to enforce the child support order, the recipient party may file a petition for contempt of court. Contempt of court is a finding that a person was court ordered to do something and failed to do it. When the court orders that a person is in contempt for failing to pay child support, it will continue to hold them in contempt until they “purge” the contempt. In addition to requiring that the person purge the contempt, the court may also impose other penalties. Such penalties may include paying the other party’s attorney fees.