Tuesday, June 25, 2013

High Income Households under the New Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines

The new Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines effective on August 1, 2013 provide more specificity for the court on how to calculate child support when the combined household income exceeds $250,000.

Under the new guidelines, the Court is still given significant discretion as to child support orders in these households but the language of the new guidelines clarifies a few key issues that had previously led to confusion over the court's presumptions and authority in these cases.

Under the old guidelines, the language read:
These guidelines are not meant to apply where the combined annual gross income of the parties exceeds $250,000. In cases where income exceeds this limit, the Court should consider the award of support at the $250,000 level as the minimum presumptive order. Additional amounts of child support may be awarded in the Court’s discretion.
Under the new guidelines, this section reads:
These guidelines are calculated up to a maximum combined available annual gross income of the parties of $250,000. In cases where combined available income is over $250,000, the guidelines should be applied on the first $250,000 in the same proportion as the Recipient’s and Payor’s actual income as provided on line 1h of the child support guidelines worksheet. In cases where income exceeds this limit, the Court should consider the award of support at the $250,000 level as the minimum presumptive order. The child support obligation for the portion of combined available income that exceeds $250,000 shall be in the discretion of the Court. (emphasis added)
While this proportional approach was suggested in the report which accompanied the 2009 Child Support Guidelines, it was not specified in the Guidelines themselves.  The new guidelines, therefore, clarify that this is the appropriate method to generate a presumptive minimum support order.

The 2013 Guidelines still do not provide guidance of how the Court should exercise it's "discretion" with the income over $250,000.  However, the new worksheet encourages Judges to consider the proportional income both parties have over the $250,000 cap, by displaying those amounts at the end of the form.  Seeing this figures will give Judges a clear picture of how much income each party has above the $250,000.

Displaying this information on every worksheet will not just assist Judges in calculating these amounts, but also highlight the difference for them.  While we can't predict exactly what Judges will do with this information, having it handy encourages them to consider what they might do with that information and will likely lead to more specific factual findings as to how Judge's are exercising their discretion on the excess income.

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