We frequently hear from parents that want to adjust their child support, either lower if they are the one paying or higher if they are the one receiving child support. You would think that there would be a simple way to do this in Massachusetts because it happens every day, right? Nope. It is a long process and much more complicated than I think it needs to be.
So if you have a change in your life like a new job, lose your job, become disabled, or anything else that impacts your income, how do you actually adjust child support? Unless you agree with the other party on a change to child support (that is a separate topic), it all starts with a Complaint for Modification in the Massachusetts Probate and Family Court. The Department of Revenue handles collecting and distributing child support in some cases, but they have absolutely no authority to change the amount of child support someone is ordered to pay. DOR can adjust the amount you pay towards arrears if you owe past-due support, but they aren't able to increase or reduce the actual court-ordered weekly child support amount. If there is one thing you should remember after reading this it should be that child support can't be changed without a court order!
Department of Revenue - Child Support Enforcement Division
I have heard from many people that have been tripped up by the Department of Revenue's Child Support Enforcement Division (DOR-CSE) website, which tells you what to do if you want to modify your child support
The title of the page even says in big, bold letters "Request a change to your child support court order".
Seems simple, right? It seems like you can follow the instructions and DOR will help you change your child support. I mean, DOR handles child support, they must be the right people to help, right? WRONG! DOR cannot change your child support order unless there is a court order that tells them they can change it. To be clear, sometimes the court order may say that child support ends at age 18 or 21, and then that will automatically happen for 'blanket orders'. But they aren't actually independently changing child support, they are just following what the court previously ordered.
READ THE FINE PRINT!
If you read all the way to the bottom of DOR's website, it tells you exactly what DOR will do when you submit all your documents. If you read very closely, it says that DOR-CSE will review your information submit and "DETERMINE IF IT WOULD BE APPROPRIATE TO ASK THE COURT TO MODIFY CHILD SUPPORT"!! All you accomplish by submitting this request to DOR is that DOR will tell you whether or not they think you should ask the court to change child support. Or they will let you know if they are able to help you or not. This could take MONTHS!
It is very misleading, to say the least, but almost sinister. You could spend a month gathering documents and mailing them to DOR, expecting your child support to be changed when DOR reviews everything. You did what DOR-CSE told you to do. All you have really done is waste time (likely months!) that you could have spent actually asking the court to modify your child support.
Is this some devious conspiracy to stop people from asking for changes to child support? I don't think there are any bad intentions, and I sincerely think MA DOR is trying to provide a service and help people that are paying or receiving child support. There is nothing in it for DOR to mislead anyone, and all it actually does is create more work for them that would probably be better spent elsewhere. But I do think they should add a big disclaimer that says "only the court can modify child support" so that people are very clear about what they can expect to accomplish.
If not DOR, then...
The Massachusetts Probate and Family Court CAN change your child support through a Complaint for Modification. Always start there, or contact an attorney to help you decide the best way to modify your child support.