Massachusetts' 2021 Child Support Guidelines
New Guidelines Are Applicable to All Cases
According to federal law, states must perform a quadrennial (every four years) review of their child support guidelines. In Massachusetts, this review was completed over the 2020-2021 year by the Child Support Guidelines Task Force, convened by Chief Justice of the Trial Court Paula M. Carey. The new Massachusetts child support guidelines went into effect on October 4, 2021. These guidelines are to be applied to all child support orders and judgments issued by the justices of the Trial Court.
The 2021 Child Support Guidelines are designed to prioritize the best interests of the children involved and are applicable in all cases that either establish or modify child support orders. Additionally, they apply to all cases, regardless of whether the child's parents were married or unmarried and irrespective of whether the child support order is temporary or final.
The guiding principles behind Massachusett's child support guidelines include:
- Promoting the parents' financial responsibility for their children
- Meeting the child's basic needs
- When one parent has a higher standard of living, helping the child enjoy that higher standard
- Minimizing any negative changes to the child's standard of living as a result of their parents' separation
- Protecting a basic subsistence level of income for the child's parents
- Recognizing any non-monetary contributions made by the parents
- The involvement of both parents in the child's life
- Recognizing additional monetary contributions made by the parents in addition to an existing child support order
- The cost, availability, and importance of health care coverage for the child
In addition to these principles, the law also recognizes that deviations from the child support guidelines may be necessary and should be used when appropriate. Click here to learn more about how the new Child Support Guidelines deal with deviations.
Calculating Child Support
The new guidelines include updated calculations for determining the appropriate amount of child support. As per the federal law cited above, states must make certain basic considerations when calculating child support. These minimum requirements include considering all income and earnings of the noncustodial parent, the basic subsistence needs of the noncustodial parent who has a limited ability to pay, incorporating a low-income adjustment, and, when necessary, the specific circumstances of the noncustodial parent. Additional considerations can be made at the State's discretion. In keeping with federal law, Massachusetts' Child Support Guidelines Task Force identified many factors that must be taken into account when determining child support
According to the new Child Support Guidelines, the courts must consider the following factors when issuing child support orders:
- The income of both parents
- The evidence of the parent's ability to pay child support
- The time a child spends with each parent (parenting time)
- The relationship of child support to alimony or separate maintenance payments
- Existing support obligations for children not a party to the case under consideration
- Reasonable child care costs of up to $355/week per child
- Additional child care costs, when appropriate
- Health care, dental, and vision insurance
- Routine out-of-pocket and uninsured medical and dental/vision expenses
- Extraordinary out-of-pocket and uninsured medical and dental/vision expenses
The Court must also consider the need for ordering or declining extended child support for children between the ages of 18 and 23 years old. Similarly, the Court has the discretion to order to decline a parent to contribute to college (or other post-secondary education) expenses.
Click here to view the Massachusetts 2021 Child Support Guidelines Chart.
Child Support Modifications
As part of the quadrennial review, the Court also examined child support modifications' laws. According to the updated guidelines, changes to a child support order can be sought if there has been a material or substantial change in circumstances for the child or their parents. Typically a change of circumstances will be considered substantial enough to warrant a modification when it is significant, lasting, and renders the old child support order inappropriate or inadequate.
Other reasons for pursuing a modification can include:
- There is an inconsistency between the existing order and the amount of child support that would be ordered from the application of the new guidelines
- Previously ordered health care coverage is no longer available or is no longer available at a reasonable cost
- Access to health care coverage that was previously unavailable is now available
Furthermore, under the new guidelines, if pursuing a modification of an order that deviated from the guidelines under which it was issued, the Courts will continue to apply the existing deviation to the modification if a) the original need for the deviation is still present, b) the deviation continues to be in the child's best interest, or c) the child support amount under the new guidelines would be unjust or inappropriate.
When to Call an Attorney
Understanding the laws surrounding child support can be tricky, especially without the help of an attorney. Though the courts do their best to ensure that child support orders are in the best interest of the child in question, every family is different. Having an attorney on your side through the process can be invaluable and give you peace of mind.If you are going through a divorce or separation and have shared children, schedule an appointment with us to find out how these new guidelines affect your case. Similarly, if you have an existing child support order that you believe needs to be modified in light of these changes, we can help.