When it comes to setting up a child custody schedule in Maryland as part of a divorce, small differences have the potential to have massive impacts. A difference of just a few overnights can greatly alter what will owe in child support. Potentially, one or two extra overnights may mean owing hundreds, or even thousands, less in child support every month if those extra nights give you shared custody. In other words, it pays to exercise great care when it comes to a custody schedule in a marital settlement agreement. And it pays to have an experienced Maryland child support lawyer on your side who knows this and other nuances of the law keenly well, to get you the best outcome possible.
So, how can just a slight alteration of a custody schedule make such a big difference in child support? As a recent case illustrated, the key lies in Maryland’s definition of shared custody versus sole custody. In this state, the dividing line is 35%, or roughly 128 overnights. If you have fewer than that, then the other parent has sole physical custody. If you have more than that, then you and the children’s other parent have shared physical custody.
That recent case involved a father who had visitation on alternating weekends, alternating Wednesday evenings, some federal holidays and part of the summer break. He was also required to pay $2,620 per month in child support but later asked the judge to reduce his obligation. He argued that his support obligation was being calculated as if the mother had sole physical custody but, based on the number of overnights the children had with him, the parents shared joint physical custody.
The court eventually decided that the father was entitled to a hearing to present his case for reduction. The evidence, the court decided, showed that a change in the custody schedule increased the father’s overnights to approximately 142. At 142, he clearly had the children more than 35% of the time, at 39%.
The adjustment for shared physical custody can make big changes in child support
How exactly does this end up making such a big difference in child support, you might ask? It’s tied to the way child support is calculated in Maryland. If you and your children’s other parent have shared physical custody, then your child support obligation is adjusted downward based upon the amount of time the children spend with you. So, if you have the kids for more than 35% of the time, you are given a credit for that time in determining how much you owe in child support.
If you have the children less than 35% of the time, then the other parent has sole physical custody. In a sole physical custody scenario, you are entitled to no adjustment at all, even if you have the children 115, 120 or 125 overnight per year. What that means is that there often can be a very steep drop in a supporting parent’s child support obligation amount if his number of overnights reaches or exceeds that 35% number.
In other words, there are a lot of legal issues to consider at every step of the divorce and post-divorce process when it comes to child custody and child support. If your ex-spouse will be the children’s primary custodian but the children will spend ample time with you, it may be very important to you to work out a schedule that ensures that you have access to the children 35% or more of the time. Additionally, if later changes take your number of overnights from below 128 to above 128, then you may be entitled to go to court and seek a reduction in your child support payments.
To be sure that you are getting child custody and child support arrangements that protect you and your relationship with your children, reach out to diligent Maryland child support lawyer Anthony A. Fatemi, who has been diligently representing mothers, fathers, wives, husbands and others in Maryland custody litigation cases for many years. To learn more, contact us at 301-519-2801 or via our online form.