Monday, June 24, 2013

New Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines will Reduce Support for Many

On Thursday, June 20, 2013 Chief Justice of the Trial Court, Robert A. Mulligan, announced via Press Release the latest revisions to the Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines which will become effective on August 1, 2013.  Federal rules require that the court review the guidelines every four years, and the current guidelines were enacted in January of 2009.

The Chief Justice, with the assistance of a task force he appointed in 2012, reviewed the guidelines with the hope of "producing guidelines based on the current economic climate for families raising children in Massachusetts."

Since August 1 is pretty close, we at Kelsey & Trask, P.C. want to help everyone understand these new guidelines and how they affect current divorce, paternity and child support modification cases.  Over the next few days we will be posting multiple blogs regarding the changes these new child support guidelines will implement, and providing an updated user-friendly calculator to assist with completing the new worksheet.

For now, let's make some basic comparisons.  Below you will find a chart displaying the comparison of child support totals for 1 child vs. household income (before multiplying the child support by proportion of income).  As this chart shows, the new guidelines will result in a typical reduction of between 10 and 15% for most cases.

Because the multiplier for additional children increases in the new guidelines, as shown below, the impact of this reduction will be felt less in cases with multiple children:

Other changes to the guidelines may also suggest that child support orders should be lower or higher than the current orders.  A summary of the other changes is provided below, direct from the court's press release:

  • Income from means tested benefits such as SSI, TAFDC, and SNAP are excluded for both parties from the calculation of their support obligations.
  • Availability of employment at the attributed income level must be considered in attribution of income cases.
  • The text makes clear that all, some, or none of income from secondary jobs or overtime may be considered by the court, regardless of whether this is new income or was historically earned prior to dissolution of the relationship.
  • Reference is made to the 2011 Alimony Reform Act; the text does not, however, provide a specific formula or approach for calculating alimony and child support in cases where both may be appropriate.
  • Clarification is given as to how child support should be allocated between the parents where their combined income exceeds $250,000.
  • A new formula is provided for calculating support where parenting time and expenditures are less than equal (50/50) but more than the assumed standard split of two thirds/one third.
  • Guidance and clarification is given in the area of child support over the age of eighteen where appropriate.  While the Guidelines apply, the court may consider a child’s living arrangements and post- secondary education. Contribution to post-secondary education may be ordered after consideration of several factors set forth in the Guidelines and such contribution must be considered in setting the weekly support order, if any.
  • The standard for modification is clarified to reflect the recent Supreme Judicial Court decision in Morales v. Morales, 464 Mass. 507 (2013).
  • Circumstances justifying a deviation are expanded to include extraordinary health insurance expenses, child care costs that are disproportionate to income or when a parent is providing less than one-third parenting time.
For more information and the new worksheet visit the court's website.


  1. Would the income or a new spouse for the custodial parent be calculated in the household income or would only the income of the custodial parent be considered?

    Can you explain the 50/50 guideline? If the not custodial parent spends close to 50% of time with their kids does support go up or down?

    1. The income definition does not include income from a new spouse of the custodial parent.

      In the event that parties share parenting time and financial responsibility approximately equal (50/50), the child support guidelines are run twice, with each parent as the custodial parent, and the higher earning spouse pays the difference (i.e. support goes down).

  2. What about this:

    Cooper v. Cooper, 43 Mass. App. Ct. 51, 55 (Mass. App. Ct. 1997) (internal citations omitted.) It is legal error not to admit evidence of the second spouse’s income. As explained in the Sylvia court:
    The husband also argues that the judge should not have admitted evidence as to his present wife's income. The admission was proper. Although a second marriage does not relieve a spouse of marital and parental obligations, O'Brien v. O'Brien, 325 Mass. 573, 576 (1950); Pemberton v. Pemberton, 9, 13 (1980), and although a second husband or wife does not share the duty to obey a support order directed toward the other spouse, see Krokyn v. Krokyn, 378 Mass. 206, 215 (1979), the income and assets of second spouses are part of the circumstances relevant to the ability of parents to use their own resources to contribute to the support of their children.

    Silvia v. Silvia, 9 Mass. App. Ct. 339, 342 (Mass. App. Ct. 1980)

    1. The Child Support Guidelines do not use household income to calculate presumptive support amounts. Thus the income of a new spouse would not be included in the calculation under the guidelines. The Silva case opens the door for the income of the new spouse to be considered as to the circumstances relevant to the ability of parents to use their own resources to support their children. Since child support is typically paid from income, and not resources, this issue usually only arises when a payor fails to make payments (as was the case regarding alimony in Cooper) or when a payor seeks to reduce their support (as was the case in Silva). However, the Silva and the Cooper case both predate the Alimony Reform Act (which specifically excludes new spouse income from consideration) and the current Child Support Guidelines. The Trial Court would have considerable discretion in how to apply these rulings given the law changes in the mean-time.


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