The Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines Task Force recently released updates to the Child Support Guidelines that serve as the presumed amount of child support that parents should pay or receive. Starting October 4, 2021, the new guidelines will be in effect, and parents in Massachusetts will see changes to how their child support is calculated. Every four years or so, the courts are required to review the state's Child Support Guidelines to make sure that they are clear, fair, and in line with any economic or public policy changes that impact parents.
Over the following weeks, we will take an in-depth look at some of the most notable changes from the 2021 Child Support Guidelines update, but let's start with an overview of how child support is calculated and a preview of the changes we will explain in some future blog posts.
Overview of Child Support in Massachusetts
Child Support in Massachusetts is designed to ensure each parent is contributing to the needs of their children in proportion to their earnings. For example, in a family with two children, if Parent A earns $70,000 and Parent B earns $30,000, state guidelines will first determine how much of the parents' combined income of $100,000 should be dedicated to the care of one child and this is multiplied by a certain factor for the number of additional children. Each parent contributes proportionately to that amount, with Parent A paying 70% of the obligation and Parent B paying 30%. It obviously doesn't make sense for both parents to make payments to each other, so the payments are offset resulting in the parent with the higher percentage of their total income paying the parent with the lower percentage (in most cases).
The guidelines make adjustments for other factors that affect the financial burden of each parent, most notably the parenting schedule. If a parent has more of the parenting time, they are likely paying a higher amount of expenses directly, like food for example, and thus are entitled to a larger share of financial support. In Massachusetts, there are fixed calculations for 50/50 parenting schedules and for schedules where one parent has the children for two-thirds of the time, but not every case fits neatly into one of those buckets.
The Guidelines calculation is the “presumed” amount of child support that should be ordered, and in many cases, that is exactly what a judge orders. A judge also can adjust the support amount generated by the guidelines, however, if the “presumed” child support leads to an unfair result or if there are other factors that make the guidelines calculation inapplicable. This is called a deviation and it requires the judge to specifically state the reasons why their child support order differs from the guidelines calculation.
Changes to Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines in 2021
The 2021 revisions to the Child Support Guidelines reflect some pretty significant changes while sticking to the same basic structure explained above.
Here are some of the bigger revisions to the child support guidelines calculation:
- Multiple children – this is possibly the biggest change, with an increase from 25% to 40% of the base child support amount for the second child, with additional children increasing that factor
- Child Care – changed the way this is factored into the calculation
- Health Insurance - changed the way this is factored into the calculation
- Minimum weekly support amounts – the minimum child support order was increased to $40 from $25, except in low-income cases where it can be as low as $12 per week.
- Maximum income – the prior Child Support Guidelines calculated child support only up to a combined income of $250,000 for both parents. This is now $400,000.
- Definition of income – clarified how certain Social Security benefits should be treated for child support purposes
- Alimony and Child Support – for the first time, the Child Support Guidelines provide a methodology for how to handle some situations where alimony and child support intersect in the same case.
In general, child support will increase for most cases, but there is most likely an increase in all cases where there are multiple children.
If you are receiving child support and think you may be eligible for an increase based on the new calculation, please feel free to reach out to our office to discuss your options.