Child Support Basics
Divorced parents in Maryland are legally responsible for supporting their children until they become legally recognized adults, at the age of 18 or judicially emancipated prior to 18. Judges issue child support awards based on the income of each parent, the time each parent spends with the child, the specific needs of the child and the standard of living to which the child was accustomed prior to the divorce. Child support obligations generally increase along with the parent's income, but unlike some states, Maryland does not establish a level of support based on a specific percentage of the parent's income. Parents may seek a reduction in child support by petitioning the court that originally issued the child support order. In most cases, child support payments in Maryland are deducted directly from the parent's paycheck in the form of a garnishment.
In Maryland, the age of majority at which children become legally recognized as adults is 18, but emancipation allows a minor to be recognized as an adult prior to that age. The courts in Maryland may grant emancipation if a minor marries, joins the military, demonstrates that they are living separately from their parents and have a source of income, or in cases of parental neglect and abuse. Children cannot be legally emancipated until their parents, a guardian or a governmental agency petition the courts for emancipation, and child support obligations continue until a judge issues an emancipation order. Judges are unlikely to allow young teenagers to become emancipated, even if they are working, but teenagers 16 and over are likely to win petitions for emancipation if they prove to the court they will be self-supporting.
Children may create unofficial written or oral agreements, with their parents allowing them to live on their own or limiting the parent's control over the child's money. But these agreements have no legal status, and the parent may still be responsible for child support payments in the eyes of the law. Parents or other interested parties may seek an official judicial order authorizing emancipation, by petitioning the juvenile court in the county in which the child resides. A clerk will schedule a hearing on the emancipation at which time the judge hears any objections. If the judge finds there is cause to emancipate the child, he will issue an order of emancipation, effectively declaring that the minor is an adult for all purposes.
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Emancipation absolves parents of future child support, but will not eliminate their duties to pay previously owed child support. Failure to pay child support in Maryland can result in wage garnishment, contempt citations and even imprisonment.