What Is Voluntary Impoverishment In Maryland Family Law?

Our attorneys have experience with some parents deciding to live in poverty to avoid making child support payments. Regardless of these efforts, payments are still required. This article describes what voluntary impoverishment is according to family law and the factors the court considers when ruling on this subject. If you have questions about voluntary impoverishment and child support, our experienced Bethesda family lawyers at Shah & Kishore can assist you.

Voluntary Impoverishment Overview

In Maryland, while one parent usually pays support and the other receives it, the child support calculation is made with the idea that both parents have to contribute to the child support obligation.

The paying parent’s obligation is offset by what the other parent is supposed to contribute. This is in recognition of the fact that parents do not literally pay support to themselves. Child support is determined based on each party’s relative income, so it is common for one party to argue the other parent is not earning as much as they can.

Voluntary impoverishment means that a parent decides to be unemployed or underemployed to avoid child support payments. In this situation, the parent’s support obligations are determined by potential income unless the party cannot work due to a mental or physical condition.

Other conditions include caring for a child under two and having joint responsibility with the other parent. The parent can be found to voluntarily impoverish themselves even if they have never worked and continue not to work after having children. Voluntary impoverishment is determined by the judge reviewing these factors:

  • The party’s physical condition
  • The party’s education level
  • The time between your divorce and the change in finances or employment
  • The state of the parties’ relationship before the divorce proceedings
  • How much effort the parent makes to find employment
  • Whether they have tried to get job training
  • The party’s work history
  • The job market where the party resides

Recent Maryland Voluntary Impoverishment Law Changes

Note that there have been substantial changes to voluntary impoverishment in the law that took effect on Oct. 1, 2021. Under the new law, voluntary impoverishment means that the parent made a conscious choice and was not compelled by factors beyond their control to render themselves inadequate financial resources.

Next, the term ‘potential income’ was updated to mean income attributed to the voluntarily impoverished parent based on their potential and most likely level of earnings, considering these updated factors:

  • Age
  • Education
  • Literacy
  • Physical and behavioral conditions
  • Residence
  • Job skills and occupational qualifications
  • Special skills or training
  • Record of any efforts made to obtain a job
  • Criminal history and related barriers to employment

The updated Maryland law also establishes a framework for mandating that the court make a voluntary impoverishment finding and consider the above factors when determining the party’s potential income. It appears that the statute encourages the court to stipulate its reasons and how it considered the above factors.

Why Did Voluntary Impoverishment Guidelines Change?

Maryland is required by law to review the child support guidelines every four years and to stay in line with federal law. The legislative subcommittee believed that the changes encourage transparency and put a sharper focus on realistic potential income and child support while reducing the chances for incorrect decisions. Research suggests that ordering too high of a child support payment can lead to less being paid, which is not in the child’s best interests.

What To Remember About The Updated Voluntary Impoverishment Guidelines

If you want to make a voluntary impoverishment argument in court, there are several things to keep in mind in light of the updated Maryland law:

You Need Evidence

The definition of potential income offers you and your attorney a roadmap of the factors the court may consider. So, you need evidence. How can you prove your efforts to get a job? What about the local job market conditions? Availability of companies who want to hire the parent? Use local online job listings and data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. You also may need to gather other evidence that shows the parent’s efforts to secure employment.

Are Experts Needed?

Suppose you want to argue that the parent has high-income potential but is voluntarily impoverishing themselves. In that case, you may need the help of a vocational rehabilitation expert to provide commentary about local job conditions and wages.

What If You Are Being Accused Of Voluntary Impoverishment?

If your ex accuses you of voluntary impoverishment, you should hire a family law attorney to represent you and fight the accusation. If you hire a lawyer familiar with this aspect of Maryland family law, they will likely tell you to apply for plenty of jobs online and in person. The reason is that the family court could determine that an underemployed or unemployed parent is voluntarily impoverished if they are not seeking employment.

If this matter goes to court, your attorney may provide the court with your CV, job applications, and any cover letters you have used to look for a job. However, a skilled attorney for the other party could cross-examine you and try to show that your copious job efforts could have been more authentic. One way to ensure this does not happen is only applying for jobs within the scope of your education and experience. Speak to one of our family law attorneys today if your ex claims you are voluntarily impoverishing yourself.


If the family law court decides that a parent is voluntarily impoverishing themselves, the court must have enough evidence of their earning capacity to impute a proper amount of possible income. The evidence might include earning history, vocational expert testimony, etc. The court will then decide about the party’s potential income.

Contact Our Bethesda Family Lawyers

Maryland law is clear: The noncustodial parent ordered to make child support payments must do so. However, some parents may believe that child support is being used to support their ex’s household, not the child. But remember that state law does not require the custodial parent to account for how they spend child support.

Our family law attorneys at Shah & Kishore understand what it is like when there are questions or accusations about child support and voluntary impoverishment. Our attorneys will work with you to attain the best outcome for your case. Contact our Bethesda family lawyers at Shah & Kishore. We are available for a consultation today, so please call (301) 315-0001.

Our essential business is open during the pandemic Close