For several weeks Marylanders have been asked to practice social distancing and other behaviors to help “flatten the coronavirus curve”. On March 23, 2020, the Governor of Maryland ordered many small businesses to close. On March 30, the Governor issued heightened safeguards including a “Stay-At-Home” Order, which will require all but very few people to stay at home or face imprisonment for up to one year, a fine of $5,000, or both.
If you have been laid-off or struggle with a reduction of earnings for any reason (Covid-19 or otherwise), you can request a modification of child support under Maryland law. In Maryland, child support continues until a child is 19 or graduated from high school, whichever first occurs. Child Support is always modifiable based upon a material change in financial circumstances, which might include the increase or decrease in a parent’s earnings or the increase or decrease in your child’s financial needs.
For example, local schools are closed. If you are an essential employee you may have consistent earnings, but a significant increase in work-related childcare costs. If you have experienced a loss of employment, in addition to the reduction in your income, you may also need to obtain private health insurance and those costs may be significantly more than your employer-sponsored plan.
Maryland Courts have been closed to the public since March 16, 2020, except for a very limited scope of emergency cases (which does not include the modification of child support). When the Courts reopen, there will be a backlog of cases. It may be some time before your request for modification of child support can be decided, months or more. Nonetheless, it is important to file your request for modification with the Court immediately upon your change in financial circumstances. Why? The Court can order a retroactive modification.
If you file your request for modification of child support now, retroactive modification allows the court to order that modification be backdated to the date that you first made your request. If your financial circumstances have changed and you wait to request a modification, you will not be able to get any relief for the period of time while you were waiting to take action. If you fall behind on your child support payments and you have not requested a modification, those unpaid amounts will become arrearages and they will still be owed.
Once you have filed for a modification of child support with the Courts, there is one sure fire way to speed up the process – reach an agreement. It may be that you and your co-parent are both painfully aware of the change in financial circumstances, loss of job, reduction of income, etc. If you can agree to modify child support (even temporarily), and the new child support amount is based upon the Maryland Child Support Guidelines, then you may be able to accomplish a quick modification of child support by filing your Agreement or a Consent Order with the Court.
The Maryland Department of Human Resources offers a free child support calculator online, which can be helpful to families with a combined household income of less than $15,000 per month. If your household income is more than $15,000 per month or you can afford to pay for a child support calculator, you can download the “home” version of the same calculator program used by the courts, SASI-CALC. With an Agreement, your child support modification will go into effect much sooner.
Many places where people look for legal help are outdated, inaccurate, or thinly veiled attempts to sell something. If you can’t afford to retain an attorney – we want to provide you with a few sources for reliable self-help information:
This website is sponsored by the Maryland Judiciary and provides legal self-help for Marylanders. This site also includes a searchable index of free and low cost-legal services providers in many practice areas, including family law.
This website, also sponsored by the Maryland Judiciary, provides many free family law forms and detailed instructions on how to complete and file the forms yourself. These forms will not take the place of having an experienced attorney represent your interests, but filing these forms with the Court will allow you to request modification and get in line for a back-dated, retroactive modification.
Each child support case and the facts of each case are unique. These self-help resources are not intended to take the place of having an attorney advise you and represent your interests in court. Nonetheless, we recognize that sudden loss of a job and the current Covid-19 pandemic may make it difficult, if not impossible, to hire and retain an attorney.
If you are able to hire an attorney, our office would welcome the opportunity to negotiate or mediate the quickest possible modification of child support on your behalf, whether it be by agreement or by litigation. If you would like to speak with us to further discuss your options, please contact us or phone our office to schedule a confidential consultation. While we are not currently meeting with clients in-office, we can offer consultations via Skype, Zoom, and telephone. Again, if you don’t have the resources to hire an attorney, you can file a Motion for Modification of Child Support with the help of the local Office of Child Support Enforcement or on your own.