Topics on this page:
- Where should I file my complaint for child support?
- Is the case only between the natural parents or is a third party involved?
- Is there a paternity dispute?
- Is there an existing Custody/Visitation Order?
- Is there a current Child Support Order?
- What if a child support order has been issued?
- If no child support order has been issued
- When can the court decline to require a parent to pay child support?
1. Where should I file my complaint for child support?
A complaint for child support should be filed in the state and in the county that is the domicile of your child. A child's domicile is the place of the child’s true, fixed, and permanent home. A person only has one domicile. If the child’s domicile is in Maryland, you should file your complaint for child support in the Circuit Court for that county (including Baltimore City). The Circuit Court has continuing jurisdiction over the support of the child.
Read the Law: Md. Code, Family Law § 1-201
2. Is the case only between the natural parents or is a third party involved?
If the child is being cared for by a State agency or someone other than the biological parents, a third party may be involved in the child support case. A legal guardian or third party that has been granted custody of the child can file a complaint for child support against the natural parents. If the third party does not have legal guardianship or custody of the child, the party would need to file a petition with the court to legalize their relationship with the child before requesting support.
3. Is there a paternity dispute?
Paternity must be established before child support can be awarded. When there is a paternity dispute, the mother can seek help from the local child support enforcement office to prove who the father is. The mother can also represent herself or seek private counsel. Establishing paternity involves the rules for introducing evidence, so it may be best to be represented by a lawyer – either through the child support enforcement office or a private attorney.
Read the Law: Md. Code, Family Law § 5-1010
4. Is there an existing Custody/Visitation Order?
If there is no existing Custody/Visitation Order, you may wish to file a Complaint for Custody and child support. This can help because the court will address child support in the custody case. While the parties may be friendly now, having a Custody Order in place can help if the parties disagree later.
5. Is there a current Child Support Order?
If there is a current child support order in place and the parties complying with the order, you must show a “material change in circumstances” to have the existing order changed.
Read the Law: Md. Code, Family Law § 12-104
A change is material when the following conditions are met:
- The change in circumstances is relevant to the level of support a child is actually receiving or entitled to receive, and
- The change in circumstances is of sufficient magnitude to justify judicial modification of the support order.
What constitutes a material change is up to the court. A court won’t change a child support order without a clearly indicated change in the parties' circumstances, needs, and financial condition. No set percentage increase or decrease in expenses or income has been held to meet the "material change" requirement. However, the courts have often found that a greater than 25% difference is a material change. If there is a material change, then file a Motion to Modify Child Support with a Financial Statement.
If there is a Child Support Enforcement Order issued, call the Child Support Enforcement Agency (CSEA) to determine if they are required to enforce the order. Sometimes, CSEA will act as a collector/distributor.
If CSEA is required to enforce the order, ask that they do so. They may require you to do this in writing. Even if they don't require it to be in writing, sending them a letter is best. Keep copies of all letters that you send. Take notes on all your phone conversations. Be sure to include the date, time, and name of the person you spoke with.
6. What if a child support order has been issued?
If a Child Support Enforcement Order has been issued, file the following documents:
- Petition/Motion for Contempt
- Blank Show Cause Order
- Blank Earnings Withholding Order
You can get help from the Child Support Enforcement Administration even if you are not on Temporary Cash Assistance by paying $25.00 to the agency and asking them to assign a lawyer. The lawyer assigned to the case represents the Child Support Enforcement Agency and works to get a support obligation that is in the child's best interest. You may also hire a private lawyer.
Read the Law: Md. Code, Family Law § 10-115
7. If no child support order Has been issued and the parties cannot agree to a set amount for child support, follow these steps.
Child support services are available to all Maryland parents. A parent can ask for a Child Support Enforcement Agency attorney to be assigned to their case, even if the parent is not on Temporary Cash Assistance, by paying $25.00 to the agency and requesting assignment of an attorney. However, the government child support attorney does not represent any individual party. The attorney's role is to represent the Agency to get a support obligation that is in the child's best interest.
File the complaint yourself and turn the Child Support Order over to the Child Support Enforcement Agency for collection.
File the Complaint for Child Support yourself and attempt collection yourself through the courts after you receive a child support order.
8. When can the court decline to require a parent to pay child support?
In some circumstances, a court may not require a parent to pay child support. For example, the custodial parent is not required to pay support. The non-custodial parent may not be required to pay support in certain circumstances. The non-custodial parent may not be required to pay support if they are unemployed, have no financial resources to pay child support, and
- are incarcerated or expected to remain incarcerated for the remainder of the time that the parent has a legal duty to support the child,
- are institutionalized in a psychiatric care facility and are expected to remain institutionalized for the remainder of the time that the parent has a legal duty to support the child,
- are totally and permanently disabled, are unable to obtain or maintain employment, and have no income other than Supplemental Security Income or Social Security Disability Insurance benefits, or
- are unable to obtain or maintain employment in the foreseeable future due to compliance with criminal detainment, hospitalization, or rehabilitation treatment plan.
Read the law: Md. Code, Family Law § 12-202