By: Attorney Jeni Landers, Esquire
Disclaimer: This post is meant to give you some general information about child support in Massachusetts. It is NOT all inclusive and is NOT meant to be a step-by-step guide. The laws on divorce, custody, support, alimony, and property division are complex and you should retain counsel if possible. By providing you this information I am not in any way undertaking representation of you, creating an attorney-client relationship with you, providing you with specific advice on your situation, or guaranteeing you any particular result in your case. You may not rely on nor cite this blog post in any court pleadings.
In Massachusetts, either parent can be ordered to pay child support. Usually, if one parent has primary physical custody (the custodial parent), the non-custodial parent is ordered to pay the custodial parent. Sometimes, though, parents share physical custody and one parent is still ordered to pay based on a disparity in income. If the parents were married, the support order will be part of the divorce proceedings. If the parents were not married, either parent can file a complaint to establish paternity, custody, child support, and parenting time.
The actual amount of child support is calculated using guidelines and a calculator created by the Massachusetts Department of Revenue (DOR). You can either use the worksheet from DOR or use the online calculator. http://www.mass.gov/dor/child-support/guidelines.html The basic information that goes into the calculator is both parties’ gross (that’s before tax and other deductions or expenses) income, health care costs paid by either party, child care costs paid by either party, and the number of children. The amount calculated using that formula is then known as the “guidelines” amount and is typically the amount that a party is ordered to pay.
In some cases, there are reasons for deviating from the guidelines. When entering into a Separation Agreement (as explained in my June 2014 post) the parties can agree to deviate from the guidelines (either up or down) and put their reasoning and the agreed upon amount in the Agreement which they sign and are then bound by. When parties cannot agree on the amount and put the issue before a judge, the judge can order either the guidelines amount or a deviation from it if the judge feels the situation warrants. The guidelines do not apply if the payor’s income exceeds $250,000.00 annually. The minimum support order in Massachusetts for a payor claiming zero income is $80.00 a month.
Child support can and should be modified when either party experiences a material change in circumstance such as job loss or change, substantial loss or gain in income, disability status, etc. Complaints for Modification are available online (http://barnstablecountypfc.com/index.htm) and at the clerk’s office. If you are a recipient of child support and the payor is behind, you may file a Complaint for Contempt which is also available online or in the clerk’s office. Both modifications and contempts require hearings where both parties may testify and present evidence in addition to the court required financial statement.
Child support can be paid in a variety of manners. Some people write checks to the other party or arrange for direct deposit into the other’s account. If you choose to pay or receive child support in cash, make sure both parties sign a receipt of some sort in case there is disagreement later. The Department of Revenue can also collect and disburse child support. If you wish to have DOR handle the money, sign up to be a DOR “customer” and they can deduct support directly from the paycheck of the payor and distribute it to the recipient. http://www.mass.gov/dor/child-support/apply-for-services/ Some advantages of using DOR are that they keep detailed records of payments made, they can make additional deductions from paychecks to cover arrearages, request court modifications or orders, and they can take enforcement action for non-payment.
Child support calculation can be complicated by factors such as disability payments, unemployment, government assistance program payments, self-employment, seasonal employment, and support orders for other children. Child support is based on income essentially, and is not based on parenting time (fka visitation); one may not be exchanged or withheld for the other. The recipient is expected to use the child support for its intended purpose of housing, feeding, clothing, and otherwise caring for the child, but is not required to submit receipts or statements unless otherwise ordered or agreed to. Child support generally ends when the child is emancipated which can mean, among other things, that the child turns 18 and is not a full time student, gets married, or joins the military.
Jeni A. Landers, Esquire
Wynn & Wynn, P.C.
300 Barnstable Rd.
Hyannis, MA 02601
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