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. You can also download and fill out this June 15, 2018 Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines Worksheet. This version of the 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 implemented 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 largely corrected in the June 15, 2018 Child Support Guidelines Worksheet.)
In summary, the three errors were:
1) If you had children under 18 AND children between 18 and 22 who are receiving child support, the child support number was always too low.
2) If you had 50%-50% parenting time, the person who paid for health insurance and childcare got credited twice for these expenses. So if parents had equal income and 50%-50% parenting time and one parent paid $100/week for health insurance, the other spouse could end up paying them back $118 or more for health insurance, instead of half of the $100, or $50.
3) If, by chance, the numbers in lines 4d and 4e on the Child Support Guidelines Worksheet were opposites of each other (e.g. 50 and -50; or 13 and -13; or 43 and -43), the logic in the calculator failed, and the worksheet could give results that were thousands of dollars off per year.
The 2018 Child Support Guidelines Worksheet corrects 1) and 3) but makes changes to 2) that create new problems. In cases of 50-50 parenting time (and the less common “split” parenting arrangement), the new June 15, 2018 Worksheet is 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.
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.