On it's face, determining child support in Massachusetts may not seem complicated. The child support guidelines are available online, and it is fairly straightforward to complete them, right?
Not so fast. If it was that simple, there wouldn't be so many child support cases in court.
The devil is in the details—details such as discovering all sources of income and whether a person might be intentionally unemployed. These and other factors play an important role in determining support.
The Massachusetts child support guidelines follow some guiding principles, including:
- Encourage joint parental responsibility for child support in proportion to income
- Minimize the economic impact on the child's standard of living
- Recognize the non-monetary contributions and extent of involvement of both parents
- Recognize the importance, availability, and cost of health insurance coverage for the child
- Allow for orders and wage assignments that can be adjusted as income changes
- Recognize that the parents should bear the responsibility of the cost of maintaining two households, since it is not the child's decision that the parents live apart
Child support is calculated as a percentage of gross income (before taxes are paid) based upon the number of children. Things get more involved when determining other factors that must be considered in order to determine of child support, such as:
- Various types of income
- Relationship between child support and alimony
- Tax factors, including dependency exemptions
- Parenting time
- Minimum and maximum orders
- Child care costs
- Ages of the children, and whether they are in school
- Health, dental, and vision insurance coverage and expenses
- Uninsured medical and dental expenses
- Attribution of income (when one person may be intentionally unemployed or underemployed)
Federal statutes require states to review and update their child support guidelines every three years. Key changes between the 2009 guidelines and the new 2013 guidelines include:
- In cases involving the attribution of income to a parent, the availability of employment at the attributed income level must be considered
- Some, none, or all income from overtime or secondary jobs may be considered by the court
- The 2013 guidelines reference the 2011 Alimony Reform Act, but does not provide for a specific method for calculating alimony and child support in situations where both may be appropriate
- A new formula is provided for calculating support where parenting time and expenditures are less than equal, but more than the standard split of two-thirds of parenting time with one parent, and one-third with the other
- Further clarification is provided for when the combined incomes of the parents' exceeds $250,000 annually.
- The standard for modifications of child support orders was clarified to reflect the MA Supreme Judicial Court decision in Morales v. Morales, 464 Mass. 507 (2013).
- A child support order may be modified if there is an inconsistency between the amount of the existing order and the amount that would result from the application of the new child support guidelines.
- A new deviation form must be completed when there is an upward or downward deviation for the guidelines amount. Circumstances justifying a deviation are expanded to include:
- Extraordinary health insurance expenses
- Child care costs disproportionate to income
- When one parent is providing less than one-third of the parenting time
- For children that have reached the age of 18, the court may consider the child's living arrangements and post secondary education. Contribution to college may be ordered, and contributions must be considered when setting the weekly amount of child support.
Thus, as you can see, child support is not quite as straightforward as the guidelines worksheet may lead you to believe. Contact a Massachusetts child support lawyer for assistance with your situation.