Child support is money paid from one parent to another to financially support children when the parents no longer live together. Parents are obligated to support their children financially, regardless of whether they are still married (but living apart), are divorced, or were never married. The amount of child support depends on a combination of a) how much time the children spend with each parent, b) the difference between the incomes of the parents, and c) the number of children the parents have together. The income figures used are adjusted for the amount of money each parent spends on childcare and health care (including dental and vision), and on whether a parent is paying out child support or alimony from a previous relationship.
The State of Massachusetts uses a mathematical formula that weighs all of these factors to determine the amount of child support that one spouse will pay to the other. You can see the MA guideline child support that you or your spouse should pay the other person by using this free 2018 Massachusetts Child Support Calculator. This online calculator will generate a court-ready, filled in Child Support Guidelines Worksheet. You can also download and fill out this June 15, 2018 Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines Worksheet, separately, but it is much more difficult to understand than the online version. A filled out worksheet is required for all court cases beginning June 15, 2018.
Massachusetts laws regarding child support are clearer and more specific than laws about alimony, division of assets, and other financial aspects of divorce. The government and courts will also play a much more active role in administering child support and making sure it is paid than they will for other parts of a separation agreement. The Massachusetts Department of Revenue (the agency that collects MA state taxes), for example, has a Child Support Enforcement arm. It can directly take child support payments from a person’s wages (‘wage assignment’) and give them to the child support recipient, and it can directly seize funds from bank accounts, suspend licenses, and put liens on property when someone hasn’t paid their child support.
Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines 2017 took effect September 15, 2017. These new guidelines a) raised the minimum child support order from $18 to $25, b) eliminated the 33%-50% parenting time category from the 2013 child support formula, c) adjusted the ways in which child care and health care costs are factored into the child support formula, d) lowered the presumptive (‘normal’) child support for some children 18-22 who are out of high school by 25%, and e) limited the court ordered payment of college expenses to a maximum of 50% of costs for an in-state student at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. (Parents can, of course, agree to pay more than this–but a judge cannot order it.)
There were serious math and logic errors in the way that the 2017 Child Support Guidelines were initially implemented, for the period between September 15, 2017 and June 14, 2018. The people who put together the September 15, 2017 Child Support Guidelines Worksheet were not able to translate the intentions of the 2017 Child Support Guidelines into formulas and numbers correctly. These problems have been corrected in the June 15, 2018 Child Support Guidelines Worksheet.
In cases of 50-50 parenting time (and the less common “split” parenting arrangement), however, the new June 15, 2018 Worksheet is still unable to account for health care, childcare, and dental/vision costs in a transparent or reasonable way. For a transparent, sensible way of sharing these costs, see the MA Deviation Child Support Calculator.
Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines 2013 were previously updated on August 1, 2013. I have left an old 2013 MA Child Support Calculator online so that you can better understand child support calculations that were made between August 1, 2013 and September 15, 2017 and compare them to child support calculations between September 15, 2017 and June 14, 2018, and to calculations from June 15, 2018 onward.
The amount of child support that you pay or receive under a child support order in Massachusetts can be changed, or “modified”. It can be modified any time that, “There is an inconsistency between the amount of the existing order and the amount that would result from the application of the guidelines.” In other words, if you calculate your child support with the newest guidelines and the child support amount is different than the existing order you already have, you or the child’s other parent can seek modification. This typically occurs when there has been a change in your income or the other parent’s income; a change in the cost or availability of health insurance; or a change in parenting time. If the court agrees to the modification that you request, the new child support amount is only retroactive to the date that a parent was served or to the date when the parents, together, filed a joint motion for modification.
Even when your income, health insurance, and parenting schedule stay the same, however, the MA Child Support Guidelines themselves change regularly, so you may be able to seek modification even if your circumstances have not changed. For example, if you had a child support order made in 2016, it was been based on the 2013 Guidelines. The MA Child Support Guidelines then changed on September 15, 2017. Calculating the presumptive (“standard”) child support amount after September 15, 2017 date would give different amounts than those based on the 2013 Guidelines. The 2017 Guidelines formula was revised once again on June 15, 2018, just 9 months later. Calculating child support after June 15, 2018 could give yet a different amount of support. Each time the guidelines are changed, one can seek modification if the newest guidelines give different child support amounts than older guidelines, even if your situation has not changed.
You can compare guidelines child support amounts from different time periods on this website using the 2013 Guidelines calculator, the September 15, 2017 Guidelines calculator, and the current June 15, 2018 Guidelines calculator.
Even though the state allows you to seek a modification of child support for everyday changes in circumstances that many parents experience (e.g., a parent has a change in income), the state makes the process more difficult than it needs to be. It involves filling out as many as 10 or more court forms, including the Financial Statements, which can be particularly unclear and cumbersome. And if the modification is done as a complaint (“suing” the other person), rather than as a joint petition, the other person must be served with papers and a court process followed. For many people, this process means hiring a lawyer and paying thousands of dollars. These costs must be balanced against the possible benefit to a person of a child support modification.
Attorney Rueschemeyer only takes child support modification cases when ex-spouses are willing to work together in mediation and modify child support through a “joint petition” (see below). She does not do “complaints for modification”.
If you have the patience to fill out forms, to follow court instructions, and to carry out a multi-step process, it is possible to request a modification yourself–to do a pro se child support modification in Massachusetts–without a lawyer. Below, I give step-by-step instructions and links to downloadable court forms that a patient, careful diy person could use to file the court forms and represent themselves in a child support modification case. You can get a brief overview of the modification process in this 2-minute video produced by MassLegalHelp.org.
The process for modifying child support depends on:
A) Whether you and the other parent are working together to change the child support amount. Attorney Rueschemeyer accepts cases that use this process, and she will mediate them.
B) Whether just one of you is using the court to request an increase or decrease in child support amount. In other words, one of you is suing the other to change the child support.
C) If the Massachusetts Department of Revenue (DOR) is involved in your child support case (or if you want them to be). If DOR collects and distributes your child support, of if you want them to, they have their own process for child support modification, and they will do most of the work for you. The DOR process is described here.
A) The child support modification process if you are working together to modify the child support amount
Download and fill out each of the following documents:
Once you have assembled all of these forms, they should be given to the court clerk (“filed”) in the particular court that made the child support judgment that you are trying to modify. There is a $50 filing fee to request child support modification.
B) The process if just one of you is using the courts to “sue” or request a modification in the amount of child support.
A main difference between working together with the other parent (“joint petition”) to modify child support and filing a complaint, or suing, for modification is the process of “service.” Getting the other parent “served” with papers is a multi-step process that takes time and costs around $40. “Service” is the official, required process for getting your Complaint for Modification to the other parent.
If you are poor (‘indigent’) and the court fees are too much for you, it is possible to file for child support modification without paying any fees. The state will pay your fees for you if any one of the following three situations is true:
To request that the state pay your court fees, you must fill out an Affidavit of Indigency. In this form you check the boxes for the reasons why you cannot pay. If you do not receive public assistance or fall below the household income limits shown above, but paying the fees is still too much for you, you must fill out another form showing that you are poor and cannot afford the fees: Supplement of Affidavit of Indigency. This 3-page form asks questions about your education, income, debts, any disabilities, and what you own.
CLICK TO CALL CHILD SUPPORT EXPERT ATTORNEY JULIA RUESCHEMEYER WITH YOUR QUESTIONS ABOUT CHILD SUPPORT NOW:
Although there is no legal separation status in Massachusetts—you are either married or divorced–if you and your spouse are separated, you can still get child support, even if you are not divorced. You simply need a “justifiable cause” for living separately, such as abuse, adultery, or a spouse who left you.This is for cases in which you are not immediately filing for divorce—or you were never married–but the process involves several of the same forms you use when filing for divorce.
To file for separate support for Child Support, you need to file:
Filing for Separate Support costs $120 in court fees. You should file in the same family law court where you would file for divorce—in the county where you last lived together. If both of you have moved out of that county, you can file in a MA county where one of you now lives.
After you have filed the papers in court, you have 90 days to tell your spouse about the case you have filed for support. This process is called “Service of Process”, and it lets the spouse know that there is a case, what it is about, and if and when there is a court hearing. Often these papers are delivered to you spouse by a sheriff. You can find out more about this process at the MA Service of Process of Domestic Relations Complaints in Probate and Family Court webpage.
At a family court hearing, a judge will review the papers that you have filed that show your income and expenses, the number of children you are supporting, and your spouse’s (or child’s parent, if you are not married) income and expenses. The judge can order support for you and/or your children. The judge can even order the transfer or sale of a house that you or your spouse owns.