Child Support Guidelines – What are they? How have they changed?

In Massachusetts, the Commonwealth uses Child Support Guidelines to estimate the correct amount of child support to be paid. The amount of support is determined by a set of factors outlined in the Child Support Guidelines and by applying the applicable factors to a Child Support Worksheet.

The worksheet is calculated to reflect the amount of money for the benefit of the children that the custodial parent (who the children reside with primarily) will receive from the non-custodial parent. When there is a joint custodial arrangement the worksheet is calculated by having each parent as the recipient and subtracting the difference between the two outcomes.

The factors that the guidelines consider are things such as, each parents’ income, the costs for health insurance, the costs for child care, and any other relevant costs. The court can also order the payment of college expense and extracurricular activities.

On Friday, September 15, 2017, the Commonwealth will be implementing new Child Support Guidelines. The changes were made by a task force after careful review and consideration of the increased costs associated with raising a child in Massachusetts.

Key changes that were made to the guidelines are as follows:

1) Minimum support increased from the 2002 standard of $18.46 per week to $25.00 per week due to an increase in the overall cost of living in Massachusetts since 2002.

2) Actual time spent parenting is not determinative of Child Support. The new guidelines are based on only two scenarios, joint custody and one parent as primary custodian. The old version allowed for different calculations dependent on if more the 1/3 amount of time was spent with the non-custodial parent. The task force pursued this change because the old guidelines “increased litigation and acrimony between parents and shifted the focus from a parenting plan that is in the best interests of the children to a contest about a parenting plan that attempts to reduce a child support order.” Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines.

3) Deductions based on Child Care and Health Insurance Coverage are now capped at 15% of the total child support order to reflect that the significant costs of health insurance and child care could unfairly skew the child support order.

4) The Task Force highly recommends that Child Support be enforced at least until high school graduation. Judges have the discretion to order child support until a child is 23 years old. The new guidelines recognize, however, that a reduction in child support may be appropriate in children ages 18-23. The new guidelines recommend that as much as a 25% reduction may be sufficient.

5) The new guidelines recognize that the court has the power to require a parent to contribute to post-secondary education but also discouraged the courts to issue orders requiring parents to incur liability for loans in excess of state university costs unless the parents agree to accept such liabilities or if the child is already enrolled in post-secondary education.

Finally, the last notable change in the 2017 guidelines is:

6) Income from second jobs now may be included in certain circumstances for the calculation of child support. The old guidelines indicated that income from second jobs and overtime should not be considered in the calculation.

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