Changes to Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines and Calculations

On August 1, 2013 the Chief Justice of the Trial Court released new child support guidelines, which appear to attempt to promote greater responsibility of the non-custodial parent in a child’s life by drawing a direct correlation between the amount of support paid by the non-custodial parent to the amount of time that parent spends with their child on a regular basis. The new guidelines also clarify and modify other important issues outlined below.

1.       Welfare Benefits Not Income Under New Child Support Guidelines

Child support is based on the combined gross income of the parties. Traditionally, welfare benefits were included as income under the guidelines, but the new guidelines specifically exclude Transitional Aid to Families, SNAP, and SSI benefits from income calculations. SSDI, however is still included in the definition of income because it’s not based on the recipient’s income but is instead a monthly benefit based solely on your social security earnings.

2.       Changes to How Overtime is Considered

Whether or not to consider a parent’s second job as income in the child support guidelines rests solely in the Judge’s discretion. Judges have the ability to consider some, all or none of the overtime income a parent earns. There is also now a presumption that when a parent obtains a second job after a child support order has entered that it will NOT be included in that parent’s gross income for the purposes of calculating child support.

3.       Changes to Attribution of Income

The changes to attributing income to an unemployed or under employed parent are relatively minor, and are likely meant to take into consideration the fluctuating job market. As one of the relevant factors relevant to a Judge’s findings that a parent is purposefully earning less than they otherwise could a Judge must also consider the availability of employment  at the parent’s previous income level.

4.       Incorporates Changes in the 2012 Alimony Reform Act

The 2012 Alimony Reform Act made it clear that the same income used for child support could not also be used to calculate an alimony award. The new guidelines have adopted this language, and further added that the result of alimony and child support should be calculated in a way that is most equitable to the child. For instance, it might make sense to calculate alimony first and then child support based on the potential tax benefits and greater availability of income that could result. Judges have a considerable amount of discretion in this area, which it makes it all the more important to engage financial professionals who can help maximize a family’s financial resources.

5.       Changes to Calculations Combined Income Exceeds $250,000

Where the combined gross incomes of the parents is more than $250,000 per year Judges have a considerable amount of discretion in determining how to allocate the remaining income

6.       Percentage of Child Support Based on Parenting Time

This appears to be the most significant change to the guidelines. Under the new guidelines a parent’s child support order is much more closely tied to the amount of time the parent spends with his/her child. The old guidelines were either based on a 70/30 parenting arrangement, or a shared 50/50 custody arrangement. Where there was shared 50/50 split the parent with the amount of support paid by the higher earning parent was significantly reduced. The old guidelines did not take into account a less than 70/30 split or a split where one parent was doing more than 30% but less than 50%. Under the new guidelines these the court have been granted discretion in ordering a higher child support order where one parent is involved less than 30% of the time in a child’s life. There is also a new formula for calculating support where there is a split between 31-49%. The new formula requires that the child support guidelines be run first as though the custodial parent is the recipient of child support and then as though the parties share custody equally, and then average the two numbers together.

7.       Standards for Modifying Child Support

The standard articulated by the Court of Appeals earlier this year in Morales has been included in the guidelines, and clarifies that a complaint for modification of support can be filed any time there is a difference between the guidelines and a current order.

However, if the Department of Revenue (DOR) is bringing your case forward for you and the order is less than 3 years old then in order to do so you will also need to show a material and substantial change in circumstances.

8.       Deviation from Guidelines

There have been three new line items added to the factors a judge may consider in deviating from the presumptive guidelines order, they include the following:

I.     Where one parent’s health insurance expenses are extraordinary;

II.    One parent is paying child care related costs that are disproportionate to their income

III.  Where the non-custodial parent is spending less than 30% of the time with the child.

This blog post is only meant to highlight to the changes in the Child Support Guidelines if you have questions about your particular circumstances you should consider speaking with a child support lawyer.

You can also calculate your support amount by going to the MA DOR website here.