CHILD SUPPORT IN MASSACHUSETTS

CHILD SUPPORT IN MASSACHUSETTS

Child Support Modification

Do It Yourself Child Support Modification Process

Waiver of Court Fees for Child Support Modification

How to file for Separate Support Child Support (without marriage or divorce)

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.

If you need to divide retirement accounts or seek divorce mediation or help with an uncontested divorce, please call or email Attorney Rueschemeyer.

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.

Child Support Modification in MA

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.

Do It Yourself Child Support Modification Process in Massachusetts

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:

  1. Joint Petition/Motion (CJD 124). On this form, you identify the exact date of the judgment or temporary order that you want to modify (and include a copy of that order with the form). You specify which part(s) of the order that you want to modify and give reasons for the modification. In this form you also answer questions about past due child support; receipt of public assistance; and involvement in DCF or domestic violence cases. If either parent or a dependent child currently receives public assistance or owes past-due child support that is being handled by the MA state DOR Child Enforcement Arm, a DOR official must sign this form, agreeing to accept the proposed modification.
  2. Agreement Form (CJD 311). This is a form in which you spell out the terms of your agreement. If the request is to change child support to an amount that deviates from 2018 Guideline support or if the agreement terminates child support for a child who has reached 18, special explanations must be included in the agreement. The parents’ signatures on this form must be notarized.
  3. Proposed Judgment/Temporary Order (CJD 446). On this form you simply fill in your names, date on which you are filing the paper work, and the county in which you are filing. The judge uses this form to record their eventual decision on the case.
  4. Financial Statements. Each party must fill out a financial statement, which records information about income, expenses, debts, and assets. Financial Statements should be printed on pink paper. Attach evidence such as 1099’s, paystubs, W-2’s, proof of unemployment or disability, tax returns, etc. that show how your income and financial situation have changed if that is relevant to the request for modification. The only financial numbers that are used to calculate child support are a) gross weekly income, b) child care expenses, c) health insurance for parents and child, d) dental/vision insurance costs for child, and e) alimony or child support paid out weekly to a previous relationship; therefore, you should be sure to include documentation about each of these.
  5. Child Support Guidelines Worksheet (CJD 304). This form calculates the amount of child support that is presumptive (“standard”) under current guidelines. This form is very confusing to fill out; you can use the online child support calculator on this site, which is much clearer, to automatically fill it in for you.
  6. Findings and Determinations for Child Support and Post-Secondary Education (CJD 305). Fill out this form only if the amount of child support that you are proposing in your agreement is different from (“deviates from”) the amount that the 2018 Child Support Guidelines Worksheet calculates for you.
  7. Affidavit Disclosing Care or Custody Proceeding. If the parenting plan, visitation, or custody is being modified as part of this child support modification, each parent may need to fill out this form, which lets the court know whether there are any previous or on-going care or custody cases in family court that involve the child.

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.

Steps:

 

  1. Fill out a “Complaint for Modification” (CJD104) form. In this 1-page form, you give details of the original court ordered child support that you wish to modify, you state your reasons for needing modification, and you describe the new, modified amount of child support that you want ordered. Here is a sample, filled-out Complaint for Modification form with explanations about how to fill it out. As soon as you get the Complaint for Modification filled out, bring it to the court and you can get the child support modification process started. You can fill out other forms later, while the sheriff is doing the “service” process.
  2. Bring this Complaint for Modification form to the court where your existing child support order was made. There is a $50 filing fee, which can be waived in certain circumstances (see below). The court will fill out a “Summons” form for you. The summons may look like this sample summons form. The Summons informs the other parent a) that there is a case involving them, b) what the case is about, c) what that parent can do to respond to the complaint, and d) where to come to court
  3. The Complaint for Modification and the Summons must be “served” on the other parent. This means they must be delivered to the other parent in a special way, usually by a sheriff. The process of “service” is explained clearly in this short video about service.
    • Take the papers to a sheriff (the court can tell you where to go) and pay any fees, usually about $40. Make sure to keep copies of documents for yourself.
    • The sheriff personally delivers the papers to the other parent and then records details of the delivery on a part of the Summons form called “Proof of Service”. (That parent then has 20 days to respond, in writing, to the Complaint. They can agree with the request to modify child support, or they can fight it and tell a very different story than you. Their written response should be sent to the court and to you. That parent can ask for an extension beyond 20 days. That parent may also hire a lawyer.)
    • The sheriff gives you back the papers with the “Proof of Service” filled out.
    • Bring your Complaint for Modification and Summons (with Proof of Service) back to the court to give them to the clerk. This is called “return of service.” You should make copies of all forms for your records.
  4. The court will schedule a court date
  5. Fill out a Financial Statement. When you print out your Financial Statement, print it on pink paper. The only financial numbers that are used to calculate child support are a) gross weekly income, b) child care expenses, c) health insurance for parents and child, d) dental/vision insurance costs for child, and e) alimony or child support paid out weekly to a previous relationship. Since child support modification is typically based on changes in these numbers, you should gather documents such as paystubs, W2’s, child care bills, and health insurance bills as evidence that your financial situation is now different than the time when the existing child support order was made.
  6. Send a copy of your Financial Statement and a blank Financial Statement to the other parent. They should fill out the blank Financial Statement with their own financial information and send you a copy.
  7. Fill out a Child Support Guidelines Worksheet (CJD 304). This form calculates the amount of child support that is presumptive (“standard”) under current guidelines. This form is very confusing to fill out; you can use the online child support calculator on this site, which is much clearer, to automatically fill it in for you.
  8. Findings and Determinations for Child Support and Post-Secondary Education (CJD 305). Fill out this form only if the amount of child support that you are proposing in your agreement is different from (“deviates from”) the amount that the Child Support Guidelines Worksheet calculates for you.
  9. Affidavit Disclosing Care or Custody Proceeding. If the parenting plan, visitation, or custody is being modified as part of this child support modification, each parent may need to fill out this form, which lets the court know whether there are any previous or on-going care or custody cases in family court that involve the child.
  10. Go to the courthouse on your scheduled hearing date, being sure to bring all of your papers with you.

Waiver of Court Fees

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:

 

  1. You receive public assistance from any of the following: TAFDC, EAEDC, Medicaid (MassHealth), SSI, or Massachusetts Veterans Benefits Program.
  2. Your annual income is less than the dollar amount next to the size of your household:
    • 1-person household: $15,175
    • 2-person household: $20,575
    • 3-person household: $25,975
    • 4-person household: $31,375
    • 5-person household: $36,775
    • 6-person household: $42,175
    • 7-person household: $47,575
    • 8-person household: $52,975
  3. Paying the fees would make it hard for you to provide food, shelter, and clothing for yourself and your dependents.

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:

CALL JULIA 413-253-7484

How to file for child support in MA if you are separated but not divorced (or were never married)

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:

 

  • A Complaint for Separate Support. In this form, you document your marriage and the names your children, explain why you are living apart, and request custody, support, and even the transfer of real estate into your name.
  • A certified copy of your marriage certificate
  • An Affidavit Disclosing Care or Custody Proceedings. This form lists any current or previous court actions or proceedings that are already underway regarding your children.
  • A financial statement describing your income and expenses. If you make over $75,000 you fill out the Long Form; if you make less than $75,000, you fill out the Short Form.
  • A Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines Worksheet. You can simply use the MA Child Support Calculator on this website to generate the numbers that you copy into the Child Support Guidelines Worksheet.

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.

Top