Updates to the Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines went into effect on September 15, 2017 and these changes could have far reaching effects for parents whether you are in the process of getting divorced, first time parents navigating the Probate & Family Court, or a parent seeking to change the amount of child support the court has ordered you to pay or receive.
Child support tends to be one of the biggest sticking points between parents. The parent receiving child support often feels that they need more money to care for the child and the parent paying child support often feels as though they are paying too much or in some cases feels the other parent is using the child support for their own needs, and not the needs of the child.
To make it easier for parents to agree on a child support amount, or for judges to order a child support amount when the parents cannot agree, Massachusetts developed Child Support Guidelines. While the court can deviate from the Child Support Guidelines to order a higher or lower amount, most often the court will order child support as calculated under the Child Support Guidelines.
One of the biggest changes to the Child Support Guidelines will be removing the parenting time/child support calculation from the equation. Instead of a focus on the best parenting plan for the children, a lot of parents focused on the specific number of hours they would have the children because it would directly affect their child support payment. Under the 2017 Guidelines, child support will be calculated based on either the parents splitting physical custody of the children 50/50 or 2/3-1/3. As a parent, this means if you have your child more than 1/3 of the time, but less than 50/50, you will be paying child support as if custody were split 2/3-1/3. The intention of this change is to bring the focus back to a parenting plan that is in the best interests of the children and not driven by a calculation of the number of hours each parent has the child. Keep in mind though that the court can always make specific findings to deviate from the Child Support Guidelines if the circumstances require it.
Another major change to the Child Support Guidelines involves children between the ages of 18-23. The Probate & Family Court has discretion in determining whether to award child support when children are older than 18. The Child Support Guidelines now take into account whether the child is under age 18 or over age 18. If a child is 18 and still in high school, then the child support will still be calculated as is if the child is under 18. Before a court decides to order a parent to pay child support, the court will take several factors into consideration including whether the child is still residing in the home and dependent on the recipient of the child support, the academic circumstances of the child, and the contribution of the parents to the post-secondary education of the child. The Child Support Guidelines have also capped the amount a parent can be ordered to pay for their child’s post-secondary education at 50% of in-state tuition for an undergraduate program at UMASS Amherst. This change makes a lot of sense and has been a long time coming. While a parent should be free to contribute as much as they want to their child’s education, a parent should not be forced to pay their child’s entire tuition or more than 50% of the child’s tuition for a private school.