By: Steven E. Maalouf
Child support is one of the basic pillars of Massachusetts family law and is often the centerpiece of any family law case involving children. In Massachusetts, child support is governed by the Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines (hereinafter “Guidelines”). The Guidelines are revised every four years by a task force and a new set of Guidelines is due to be enacted on September 15, 2017. The new Guidelines will be applied to all child support orders and judgments entered on or after September 15, 2017. The latest revisions to the Guidelines are substantial and it is essential that clients and practitioners familiarize themselves with these changes. A few of the major changes to the guidelines are detailed below.
One of the biggest changes to the Guidelines is the de-emphasis on parenting time as a factor in determining a party’s child support obligation. Under the 2012 Guidelines, a party’s child support obligation was based upon the amount of parenting time each parent had with the children. The task force found that this provision caused increased litigation and acrimony between the parties. This provision also shifted focus away from a parenting plan that was in the best interests of the children. To help combat this issue, the new Guidelines eliminated a provision that changed the child support calculation when one parent has more than one-third of the parenting time, but less than fifty percent. Moreover, under the new Guidelines, parties are now required to fashion a parenting plan first and calculate child support second.
Another major change to the Guidelines was the inclusion of a new section that addresses the complexity of contributions to college. Under Massachusetts law, the Court can order parents to pay for educational expenses. However, under the new Guidelines a parent will not be required to pay more than fifty percent of the undergraduate, in-state resident costs of the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, absent written findings from the Court. This new section is designed to help parents avoid incurring liabilities above what a state university might cost.
The new Guidelines also alter how health care costs and child care costs factor into the child support calculation. The task force found that under the 2012 Guidelines, high child care and health care costs unfairly skewed the resulting child support orders. As a result, the task force adjusted the child support worksheet to ensure that the parents share the burden of these costs proportionately. This is done through a two-step calculation. First care and child care costs are deducted from the gross income of the parent who pays the costs. Second, the costs will be shared by both parents in proportion to their income available for support. Ultimately, the combined adjustment for child care and health care costs is capped at fifteen percent of the child support order.
It is essential that every practitioner and client review the new Guidelines carefully. As was the case under the 2012 Guidelines, the new Guidelines create a rebuttable presumption that the amount of the child support order calculated under the guidelines is the appropriate amount of child support to be ordered.
Please feel free to contact the members of the Family Law Group at Casner & Edwards with any questions about the new Guidelines.