Understanding Child Support

What is child support?

When the parents do not live together, Child Support is money, paid on a regular basis (weekly, biweekly, monthly) by one parent to the other parent as contribution towards the child(ren)’s support.

What does child support cover?

More specifically, child support helps pay for the child’s:

Housing,

Health insurance and medical costs, including birth-related costs,

Child care costs,

Education costs, and

Food and clothing.

What is Massachusetts stance on child support?

The principle behind Massachusetts law is that both parents must contribute to the support of their children. This child support concept is for all parents, whether they are married, divorced, separated, or never married. If the child lives with one parent most of the time, that parent is the physical custodial parent, whereas the other parent is the “non-custodial” parent. Consequently, in such situation the non-custodial parent pays child support to the custodial parent in accordance with a legally mandated child support formula.

How is child support calculated?

Child support is calculated using a formula called the Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines. Child support in Massachusetts has been, and will continue to be calculated using a formula that incorporates income and certain deductions for both parents.

Can it be adjusted?

Child support is adjusted depending on the number of children for whom support is being paid and can be further adjusted if the parents have the children on a more equalized schedule, such as 50/50% or 60/40%.

Do judges always use the guidelines?

Unless there are specific reasons to deviate from the presumed guideline amount, Judges will use the guidelines to figure out how much child support to order.

How do I fill out the child support guidelines?

The Guidelines have a Child Support Guidelines Worksheet. Each parent fills out a worksheet, and the results outline for the the judge the amount of each parent’s income and certain expenses, the number of children the order will support, and the amount of child support to order. If the combined gross income of both parents is over $250,000.00, there may be a combination of alimony and child support order, or an additional amount of child support paid in addition to the base guideline amount.

What is the latest version of the Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines?

The latest version of the Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines became effective on August 1, 2013. Under these amended 2013 Guidelines, the application of the child support formula does not change when the child spends approximately one third of the time with one parent, and two thirds of the time with the other parent, or when the parents equally share time and finances of the child.

What do these new guidelines recognize?

These new guidelines recognize that parents may divide time 60/40% and adjust the amount accordingly. There is now a three-step calculation for cases where parenting time and financial responsibilities are less disparate than one-third/two-thirds, but not necessarily split equally.

What is the calculation?

In these cases, the calculation a judge may follow is:

Calculate base child support amount with the parent who exhibits more parenting time as the recipient;

Calculate cross guidelines;

Average base child support figure and cross guidelines figure.

What does a child support order entail?

Every child support order is a product of the court determining each parent’s income. The amended 2013 Guidelines continue to employ the shared or combined income approach established in previous versions and provide a formula for calculating child support based upon the first $250,000 of the parents’ combined income. In all cases, the judge may use discretion, independent of the guidelines, in order to deviate from the guideline amount for just cause.

What changed in the new guidelines?

The amended 2013 Guidelines provide an important distinction regarding application to incomes greater than $250,000. The 2013 Guidelines now provide that “in cases where combined available income is over $250,000, the guidelines should be applied on the first $250,000” of combined income. Therefore, child support based on income that exceeds $250,000 shall be within the discretion of the court.

What were the most distinct changes?

The amendments in the 2013 Guidelines made two additional changes to child support application in Massachusetts. First, the court may not order a recipient to provide medical insurance. Paragraph II G (1) of the 2013 Guidelines states that the court shall order a payor (but not a recipient) to insure the child if the payor has medical insurance available at reasonable cost. Secondly, the Guidelines also state that the court must consider availability of employment before attributing income to a party. As with previous guidelines in effect, the revised 2013 Guidelines retain a list of mandatory findings and considerations and add availability of employment at the attributed income level as a mandatory consideration for income attribution. That is, in order to attribute income to one parent, the Court must now find that “a party is capable of working and is unemployed or underemployed” after considering “the education, training, health and past employment history of the party” along with availability of employment.

Child support orders shall be modified if there is an inconsistency between the existing order and the child support guidelines, regardless of when the child support order was entered.

How do I obtain a child support order?

In order to get a child support order, you must file a complaint, which is a written request defining what you are seeking, in court.

What if I’m married and seeking a divorce?

If you are married to the other parent, you must commence the filing process in the Registry of the Probate and Family Court for the county where you live. If you are married and seeking a divorce, you will file your complaint where you and your spouse last lived together, only if at least one of you still lives in that county currently.

What if we both moved?

If you have both moved from the county where you last lived together, then you can file in the county where either you or your spouse now lives.

Can child support be included in my divorce?

If you are seeking a divorce, the child support will be a product of the divorce judgment. However, if you want to file for only support, but do not want a divorce, there is a different process.

What is Massachusetts stance on Legal Separation?

Massachusetts does not recognize any form of a Legal Separation. However, Massachusetts does recognize another legal action call “Separate Support”. Separate support is a lawsuit to get support for you or your children while married. This lawsuit can also bar your spouse from putting any limits on your personal freedom.

How can I file for separate support?

You can file for separate support if you are married and your spouse has failed to support you, has abandoned you, you and your spouse are living apart for “justifiable cause”, or you and your spouse have “justifiable cause” to live apart, but are still living together.

What is a “justifiable cause”?

Massachusetts defines a “justifiable cause” as abuse, adultery or desertion. Separate support actions are primarily used by those who do not want to divorce for religious reasons.

How long does child support extend?

In Massachusetts, child support is paid until the child is emancipated. This could extend to age 23 if the child is a full-time student seeking an undergraduate degree. Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 208 Section 28, holds that child support ends when the child reaches the following age and circumstance:

Reaching age eighteen (18), unless the child is still principally dependent on the custodial parent for support. The child is no longer principally dependent if they have moved out of the home, except for college, is gainfully employed full time, is married, or has joined the military;

Reaching age twenty-One (21), unless the child is enrolled in a full-time undergraduate college program;

Reaching age twenty-three (23) or obtaining an undergraduate degree, which ever comes first.

Is it possible to receive child support after the limit age is reached?

However, it is possible for a parent of a child over twenty-three years old to receive child support if the child is has a severe disability and is subject to guardianship. In such cases, the court will use its discretion on the precise needs of the child in determining support post the age of emancipation.

Child Support is not taxable income to the recipient, and is not tax deductible to the payor.

The 2013 amended Guidelines increase basic support by 25% for the second child, 13% for the third child, 7% more for the fourth child and 3% more than the fourth child add-on for a family with five children. However, because the add-ons are usually applied to a lower beginning child support order, recipient parents with several children often will not see a material increase over the past orders.