Shared Physical Custody and Shared Child Support Guidelines in Maryland

The notion of shared physical custody is not well defined in Maryland case law. Parents typically think of shared physical custody as 50/50 or even time with their children. However, that is rarely the case. Even when parents agree to share physical custody, it is based on a schedule that approaches, but does not need to reach 50/50. One Maryland case that discussed such a schedule stated:

"Shared physical custody may, but need not, be on a 50/50 basis, and in fact most commonly will involve custody by one parent during the school year and by the other during summer vacation months, or division between weekdays and weekends, or between days and nights." Taylor v. Taylor, 306 Md. 290 (1986).

However, when the Maryland Legislature adopted the Maryland Child Support Guidelines, they define what shared custody means for purposes of reaching the shared child support guidelines.

Section 12-201(m) of the Family Law Article defines shared physical custody as meaning:

"that each parent keeps the child . . . overnight for more than 35% of the year."

This means that once a parent has a child overnight for at least 128 nights, the shared child support guidelines apply and the child support obligation will be adjusted pro rata between the parents. Section 12-204(m) of the Family Law Article. The amount of support is multiplied by the percentage of time the child spends with each parent, which results in a decrease in child support for every additional overnight that the parent has, once the 128 overnight threshold is reached. The actual decrease depends on the on the income of the parties, and a number of other factors that can only be determined by utilizing the child support guideline calculator, which can be found online.

Many parents make an effort to reach the 128 overnight threshold because of the steep reduction in child support it achieves. This can result in a somewhat artificial visitation schedule for the non-custodial parent, and a very negative reaction by the parent who is asked to agree to it. However, when the 128 overnight threshold is based on an appropriate schedule, it can be very useful in allowing both parents substantial time with their children, and providing an appropriate reduction in the amount of child support to be paid. The easiest way to reach this schedule, and one that is often followed, is to define alternating weekends as extending from Friday to Monday morning (3 x 26 = 78 overnights) plus one overnight each week (52 + 78 = 130).