Clarified Standard for Child Support Modifications

There has been some debate between judges and lawyers since the most recent child support guidelines went into effect in 2009 about the standard that must be met before a pre-existing child support order can be modified.

Traditionally a Complaint for Modification can only be brought where there is a “material and substantial change in circumstances.” However, the language in the G.L.c. 208, §28 (2009 Child Support Guidelines) contradicted this standard, by requiring only that there be an “inconsistency between the amount of the existing order and the amount that would result from application of the child support guidelines.”

Recently the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court issued an opinion clarifying this inconsistency, and ruled that there does not need to be a material and substantial change in circumstance to file a Complaint for Modification of Child Support. The only requirement needed to modify a child support order is that the amount stated in the previous order does not match what the court would order today.

This is something many Massachusetts family attorneys have believed to be true for years, but this opinion will help create uniformity of practice throughout the Massachusetts Probate and Family Courts.

If you are considering filing a complaint to modify an existing child support order you should first consult the child support guidelines. It is rare, but I have seen complaints seeking a reduction in child support that weren’t well planned and eventually resulted in a higher amount of child support being awarded.