Being a parent is expensive. When parents are separated, the "custodial" parent often receives assistance from the other parent in the form of child support. Obviously, all parenting arrangements are different, but in the majority of cases, the custodial parent has the child (or children) for the bulk of the time and is thus responsible for day to care like meals, baths, getting them dressed, to school or daycare, from school, and to bed. Not to mention doctor's appointments, homework, sports, and the list goes on.
All of these things come with costs, and child support is intended to assist the custodial parent with providing this care to children.
Child support can take many forms, but usually, it involves one parent giving the other parent a weekly payment. The amount of child support could be established by a simple verbal agreement between the parents, or a court-ordered amount based on the Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines.
This arrangement may chug along fine for a while, but then one day, payments stop. This is almost always a BIG deal for the custodial parent. They are still on the hook for providing for the child every day to ensure they are clean, fed, and getting where they need to be, but may not have the means to continue to provide for the child on their own. Now what?
We work with a lot of parents in this situation. We always try to start with finding out WHY the other parent isn't paying, but in many ways, it doesn't matter. Most of the time, the other parent is facing a financial hardship like unemployment rather than just deciding to stop paying for no reason (though that does happen too). To our clients, they still need to pay the rent and provide for the kids, and they need the other parent to contribute.
Sometimes, the only option is to look to the court to order that support be paid. Here are the most common ways to enforce child support:
- A new Complaint for Custody-Support-Parenting Time (pursuant to Ch. 209C). This would be done if the parents were never married, and there is no prior order for child support by the court.
- A Complaint for Contempt. These are filed when one party isn't following the terms of a prior court order. This could be a Separation Agreement from a divorce if the parents were married, or a previous complaint for support (see #1).
- A Modification of a prior court order. If there is a court order in place, but it no longer meets the needs of the children or the parties, either party can ask the court to revise it. The easiest way to do this is through a joint stipulation agreed to by both parties. If they can't agree though, the party that wants the order changed must file a Complaint for Modification.
Some of these are easier than others, but all of them have risks. Even though one party wants something changed, the court may not agree. We always recommend speaking to an attorney to get their take on what would likely happen in court. We have seen parents that are looking for an additional $50 per week in child support end up having the weekly amount of child support REDUCED. Or, one parent could end up in jail by asking for a reduction. Every situation is different, so even if a friend tells you they did it themselves and it was easy, yours may not be. Even the same basic facts could be decided differently by the same judge on different days, because it is the finer details that ultimately matter.
You can always call us to set up a free consultation, and we will review your case with you to help you decide how to proceed. Most importantly, don't assume you can't afford an attorney, there are lots of ways we can help you within your budget, just ask.