A child support order can be entered in a number of different actions in Massachusetts. The most common situation is in a divorce action. It can also be an issue in actions such as modifications after divorce, separate support actions and complaints for custody, support and visitation.
In divorce proceedings, the court can initially enter a support order based on a motion for temporary orders filed with the court. The amount of child support to be paid by one party to another is determined by the Child Support Guidelines in Massachusetts. However, the court can deviate from the guidelines in certain circumstances. New guidelines went into effect on January 1, 2009. Under the new Child Support Guidelines, consideration of the parties’ gross weekly income is offset by the amount of medical/dental/vision insurance paid, child care costs and other support obligations for other children.
For modifications after divorce, the court can modify the amount of the support order if there has been a change in income or other factors. Further, if there is a situation warranting a change in custody, child support can be modified or terminated by the court. Modifications of support for minor children can be modified even if the divorce agreement survives the divorce action. An existing order for support can be modified if the order is 3 years old or more or any other material change in circumstances has occurred.
Child support ends on emancipation of a child. It can end at age 18. However, child support can continue to age 21 if the child is principally dependent on a parent for support and lives with that parent. If the child is working part-time, the child can still be considered principally dependent on the parent for support. Child support can also continue up to age 23 if the child lives with the parent when the child is not in school and is enrolled in a secondary education program.
Under the new Child Support Guidelines, in awarding the full amount of child support, the child must have primary residence with one parent and the other parent having parenting time approximately one-third of the time. If the parents share parenting time equally, the guidelines have to be run twice to determine the amount of support. One guideline has to be run with one parent being the payor and the other the recipient. Another guideline has to be run with that same payor parent designated as the recipient and the recipient as the payor. The difference between the two guidelines determines the amount of the child support paid to the lower income parent.
When the court enters a child support order, the court also must determine if the payor has health insurance coverage for the children. If so, the court may order the payor to provide insurance coverage and will determine if it is available at a reasonable cost. If coverage is available through the recipient’s employer at a lower cost, the parties may want to consider this option when determining child support.
Many types of income can be considered for a child support order. Income can include, but is not limited to, salary, self-employment income, commissions, bonuses, unemployment, workers’ compensation, pensions and rental income.
When the court reviews the amount of income for a payor, self-employment often makes it difficult to apply the guidelines in fashioning a child support order. The self-employed individual may deduct many expenses from gross income. The court must review the expenses as to whether they are reasonable and necessary to producing income even if they can be deducted for income tax purposes.
Also, when a payor is not working and is able to work or underemployed, the court in some circumstances may attribute income to a party in entering a child support order. There is also a minimum child support order amount in Massachusetts for payor parents with income less than $100 per week. In this circumstance, the payor would be required to pay $80 per month. For parents having a combined income over $250,000, child support can be increased above the guidelines based on judiciary discretion.
Other Orders and Support Obligations
In initial actions for support, there are three situations where support for other children are considered in making a support order. The first is a deduction from gross income for prior orders for spousal and child support. The second situation provides a deduction from income for voluntary payments made to other children. The third allows a deduction for hypothetical support for a child who resides with the payor. Also, a payment to a subsequent family may be used as a defense to modify an existing order.
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