In Massachusetts, child support is governed by the Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines (hereinafter "Guidelines"). The Guidelines are an essential aspect of any case involving children because they define how child support is to be calculated. In fact, there is a rebuttable presumption that the amount of child support calculated under the Guidelines is the appropriate amount of child support to be ordered. These Guidelines are revised every four years by a task force and a new set of Guidelines are due to be implemented on October 4, 2021. As with past Child Support Guidelines, the new Guidelines are based on various considerations, including, but not limited to, each parent's earnings, income, and other evidence of ability to pay. However, there are important changes to the Guidelines that clients and practitioners should familiarize themselves with.
One of the biggest changes to the Guidelines is how child care costs are factored into child support. Under the new Guidelines, child care costs are no longer a deduction from income. Instead, the task force determined that parents should be sharing the actual costs of child care paid in proportion to their income, up to the benchmark amount of $355 per child, per week. As such, $355 is the limit on the amount of child care costs per child, per week that is eligible to be shared between parents in proportion to their respective incomes.
The new Guidelines also amended the minimum and maximum levels of child support. Previously, the Guidelines calculated child support using a maximum of $250,000 of the parties' combined available incomes. That figure has been raised to $400,000. In circumstances where the parties gross combined income exceeds $400,000, the Guidelines state that "any percentage applied to the payor's income above the maximum level, as listed in Line 8b of the guidelines worksheet, should be below the percentage applied to the maximum level in Table A (10%)." It was specifically stated that re-running the Guidelines using the excess income is not appropriate. The minimum child support order is $12 per week for any payor earning $210 per week or less. For any payors earning between $211 and $250 per week, the child support figure will vary between $12 per week and $20 per week.
In addition to the changes mentioned above, there are many additional tweaks to the Guidelines that parties and litigants should consider. Any party that is currently paying or receiving child support should review these Guidelines carefully and consult with their attorney to determine whether a recalculation of child support is warranted. Parties should not engage in "self-help" and unilaterally modify their support order. Rather, if a change to the support number is needed, the litigants should file a Complaint for Modification.
Please feel free to contact the members of the Family Law Group at Casner & Edwards with any questions about the new Guidelines.