Is it Time to Revisit Your Child Support Order?

Mother and son looking out of window

About every four years, Massachusetts and other states are required by federal law to review their state child support guidelines. In Massachusetts, this responsibility is fulfilled by the Child Support Guidelines Task Force. The Task Force considers economic trends, policies, and other data and obtains input from various stakeholders such as family law practitioners and advocacy groups when reviewing the Guidelines.  The current Child Support Guidelines (CSGs) went into effect in October of 2021 and has caused significant changes to child support orders for many of our clients.

You may be wondering if it is time to take another look at your child support order.  This article will focus on some of the recent changes to the CSGs, and some of the things that have remained consistent.   If you are considering modifying your child support order, it is suggested that you meet with a qualified family law attorney first. 

Minimum and Maximum Levels of Support Have Changed 

There have been impactful changes for families with incomes at both ends of the spectrum. The minimum child support order has been reduced and can now range between $12 and $20 per week for parents earning less than $250 per week.  At the maximum income level, the standard calculation now includes a much wider range of combined family income than past CSGs.  Previously, child support was calculated on the first $250,000 in combined available income and additional child support based on income more than $250,000 was at the discretion of the court.  Child support was typically calculated considering all income up to the first $250,000, and income over $250,000 could be considered for additional support on a case-by-case basis.  This led to less consistency between orders for families with combined incomes above $250,000 – and increased chances of litigation and conflict.  The 2021 Child Support Guidelines extends the standard calculation to combined incomes up to $400,000 and provides further guidance in helping families calculate support over the $400,000 level.  

Better Understanding “Income” for Child Support Purposes

Sources of income for child support purposes now specifically includes income derived from stock options and similar incentive programs, and alimony consistent with application of recent caselaw.  Income from the marital share of stocks divided in a property division is excluded from income from the purposes of calculating child support.  Alimony may be considered income for the recipient and deducted from the income of the payor for the purpose of calculating child support in certain situations. Military pay is also now qualified to specifically exclude allotments, however base pay and various allowances continue to be considered income for the purpose of calculating child support.  

Child-related Costs

The 2021 Child Support Guidelines provides significantly more guidance to parents in how to structure and allocate childcare costs incurred due to gainful employment, and also training and educational time conflicts in some circumstances.  The Guidelines allocate responsibility to such costs in proportion to the parent’s share of the combined available income, up to $355 per week per child.  Deviations for extraordinary childcare costs may be ordered when appropriate. 

With respect to health insurance, the 2021 Child Support Guidelines refrain from setting a firm cap on the cost of health insurance, and there is not a cost-sharing provisions similar to what we now see in the childcare costs provision.   

Additional Children

Many parents with more than one child subject to the Child Support Guidelines may notice a significant adjustment to their orders as the multiplier for additional children has been changed.  Whereas previously, a child support order would be adjusted by a factor of 1.225 for a second child, the multiplier is now 1.4.  For larger families, the adjustment may be even more pronounced – families with five children had previously had a multiplier of 1.48 in their child support order, and support orders will now adjust by a rate of 1.94.  

Modification Standard

While many changes to the MA Child Support Guidelines occurred, the guidance regarding modifying a child support order remains the same.  Child support orders may be modified (by the court – don’t just unilaterally change what you are paying in child support!) in the event that:

  • there is a gap between the current child support order and what is calculated under the new child support guidelines; 
  • the health care coverage ordered by the Court is no longer available, or is not available without posing an undue hardship or at a reasonable cost; 
  • additional health care coverage is not available to a parent; or
  • any other material and substantial change in circumstances exists that warrants reviewing the child support obligation.  

This article discusses many of the provisions that may warrant a review of your child support order, however this article is not exhaustive of all the myriad ways the 2021 Child Support Guidelines is different from the 2018 Child Support Guidelines.  The 2021 Child Support Guidelines worksheet is more nuanced than previous worksheets, and at four pages long, may not be as easy to tackle for non-professionals.  Consult an attorney for more information, and to better understand how the newest version of the Child Support Guidelines may impact your situation. 

When it is time to review your child support, or discuss your parenting and custody questions with an experienced family law attorney, please contact us at 508-359-4043 to schedule an informative and confidential consultation with one of our divorce and family law attorneys at Next Phase Legal & Dispute Resolution of Norfolk, MA