New child support guidelines in Massachusetts went into effect on September 15, 2017. The new child support guidelines are based on a comprehensive review by the Child Support Guidelines Task Force, which is required to review the guidelines every four years. According to a Mass.gov press release:
The Task Force recommended a number of clarifications and changes. Some are minor, while others represent new or modified provisions. The most significant include:
• Increasing the minimum support order to $25 per week;
• Removing the parenting time/child support calculation that was inserted into the 2013 guidelines;
• Including a capped adjustment in the child support calculation for child care and health care costs;
• Addressing child support for children between the ages of 18 and 23; and
• Including provisions related to parental contribution to post-secondary educational expenses
Since 2002, the minimum presumptive child support order was $80 per month (or $18.46/week). Taking inflation and the increased cost of living in Massachusetts into account, the minimum presumptive child support order has now been raised to $25 per week. This is a difference of $6.54 per week or $340 annually. For some, the difference might not seem like a big deal, but it can be a strain on lower income families.
Previously, a child support calculation was in place when parenting time of the payor was greater than one-third but less than 50/50 joint custody. This guideline has been eliminated. The Task Force found the calculation was being abused and that parenting schedules were being created merely to reduce child support payments. As stated in the commentary of the new guidelines, “The Task Force suggested that the first step in determining a child support order is actually creating a parenting plan that is best for the children, recognizing that children should enjoy parenting time with both parents to the greatest extent possible consistent with the children’s best interests. Child support should not be driving the parenting plan. Once the parenting plan is established, then calculations may occur.”
Taking the high cost of child and health care into account, these expenses will now be shared by both parties in proportion to their income, but capped at 15% of the base child support order.
In Massachusetts, child support can be ordered for a child who is up to 23 years old. Previously, child support orders were the same regardless of age of the child(ren) (up to 23). The guidelines have now been separated: children under the age of 18 or 18 if still in high school are one segment and children who are 18 and not in high school or 19-23 are another segment. For this second segment, the guidelines decreased the child support order by 25%. It is of utmost importance to note that child support orders are at the discretion of the Judge who may deviate from the stated guidelines.
This new section was added to the guidelines due to the fact that college expenses continue to increase exponentially. Using the University of Massachusetts – Amherst as the benchmark, “No parent shall be ordered to pay an amount in excess of fifty percent of the undergraduate, in-state resident costs of the University of Massachusetts – Amherst, unless the Court enters written findings that a parent has the ability to pay a higher amount.” This benchmark is applied regardless of where the child attends college.
Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines can be viewed here. Whether you are in the process of negotiating a child support agreement or already have one in place, it is best to consult with a Massachusetts child support attorney to discuss the changes, the impact they have on your family, and if modifications are necessary.