Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Changes in the Law reflected in the New Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines

Between 2009 and 2013 a lot has changed.  In 2009 Kanye West was the only one who couldn't wait for Taylor Swift to finish her speech and in 2013 ain't nobody got time for that.  We went from not knowing who Susan Boyle was to again not knowing who Susan Boyle is.  And your Three Wolf Moon T-shirt is probably getting a little worse for wear.

Believe it or not, Massachusetts family laws relating to support between 2009 and 2013 have seen some significant changes as well.  With the new child support guidelines, released on June 20, 2013 and taking effect on August 1, 2013, the Chief Justice and the Child Support Task Force had the opportunity to reflect these changes in the new guidelines.

More specifically, the guidelines reference both the Alimony Reform Act of 2011 and the recent decision in Morales v. Morales.  Since we have discussed both of these changes in previous posts (links above) we will only address here how the new guidelines reference these changes:

The Alimony Reform Act of 2011: The Alimony Reform Act of 2011 significantly changed the landscape of alimony calculation and duration in Massachusetts.  The reference in the Act to income used in child support orders complicated the already confusing link between alimony and child support orders.  The Task Force identifies this link and encourages Courts, within the statute's discretionary provisions, to consider the fairest way of balancing the two types of support:
Chapter 124 of the Acts of 2011 (An Act Reforming Alimony in the Commonwealth)amended G. L. c. 208 and now prohibits the use of gross income which the Court has already considered in making a child support order from being used again in determining an alimony order. See G. L. c. 208, § 53(c)(2). Consideration may be given by the parties to preparing alternate calculations of alimony and child support to determine the most equitable result for the child and the parties. Depending upon the circumstance, alimony may be calculated first, and in other circumstances child support will be calculated first. Judicial discretion is necessary and deviations should be considered.
In Morales v. Morales, SJC 11104, the SJC clarified the standard for modification of Child Support orders. In child support modification cases, the SJC notes that the 2009 Child Support Guidelines are inconsistent with the statute where the guidelines required a change in circumstances to request a modification of an existing order.  The SJC clarified that under the statute "modification is presumptively required whenever there is an inconsistency between the amount of child support that is to be paid under the existing support order and the amount that would be paid under the Guidelines."

The Task Force responded by adding this exact language to the list of reasons for modifying an existing order:
A child support order may be modified if any of the following circumstances exist:
  1. there is an inconsistency between the amount of the existing order and the amount that would result from the application of the child support guidelines;
  2. health insurance previously available at reasonable cost is no longer available (or if available but not at reasonable cost); or
  3. health insurance not previously available to a party at reasonable cost has become available; or
  4. any other material and substantial change in circumstances has occurred. (emphasis added)

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