posted by Eric Schutzbank
Under Massachusetts law, the Child Support Guidelines must be reviewed every four years to determine if revision is required. The Chief Justice of the Trial Court appoints a Child Support Guidelines Task Force every four years for this purpose. The Court has approved revised Child Support Guidelines which take effect on August 1, 2013. The Child Support Guidelines are used by Trial Court judges in setting temporary, permanent or final orders for current child support, in deciding whether to approve agreements for child support, and in deciding cases that are before the court to modify existing orders. The Trial Court recently announced these changes and summarized the key changes. The goal of the task force was to analyze the relevant data and produce revised guidelines based on the current economic climate for families raising children in Massachusetts. The review process included input from the public and the bar, and reviewed case files, economic analysis, as well as judicial and staff commentary. The Guidelines were last revised and promulgated in 2009. Additional information on the quadrennial review of the state’s Child Support Guidelines can be found at http://www.mass.gov/courts/childsupport/index.html. What follows below is a statement from the a press release from the Chief Justice of the Trial Court listing a summary of the most important changes.
Summary of Key Changes to the Existing Guidelines
The 2012 Child Support Guidelines Task Force recommended a number of clarifications and changes. Some are minor, while others represent new or modified provisions. The most significant include:
- Income from means tested benefits such as SSI, TAFDC, and SNAP are excluded for both parties from the calculation of their support obligations.
- Availability of employment at the attributed income level must be considered in attribution of income cases.
- The text makes clear that all, some, or none of income from secondary jobs or overtime may be considered by the court, regardless of whether this is new income or was historically earned prior to dissolution of the relationship.
- Reference is made to the 2011 Alimony Reform Act; the text does not, however, provide a specific formula or approach for calculating alimony and child support in cases where both may be appropriate.
- Clarification is given as to how child support should be allocated between the parents where their combined income exceeds $250,000.
- A new formula is provided for calculating support where parenting time and expenditures are less than equal (50/50) but more than the assumed standard split of two thirds/one third.
- Guidance and clarification is given in the area of child support over the age of eighteen where appropriate. While the Guidelines apply, the court may consider a child’s living arrangements and post- secondary education. Contribution to post-secondary education may be ordered after consideration of several factors set forth in the Guidelines and such contribution must be considered in setting the weekly support order, if any.
- The standard for modification is clarified to reflect the recent Supreme Judicial Court decision in Morales v. Morales, 464 Mass. 507 (2013).
- Circumstances justifying a deviation are expanded to include extraordinary health insurance expenses, child care costs that are disproportionate to income or when a parent is providing less than one-third parenting time.
In the Morales case referenced in the summary is important because it changed the legal standard in Massachusetts for when child support should be modified. Prior to the Morales case, the standard was a material change in circumstances. In 2009, the Child Support Guidelines were changed to permit a Modification every three (3) years irrespective of whether or not a material change in circumstances had taken place so long as there was a discrepancy between the amount under the guidelines and what the Payor was currently paying in child support. The 2009 Guidelines limited modifications of Orders less than three (3) years old to situations where health insurance had changed or a material change of circumstances had occurred. Under Morales, the Supreme Judicial Court determined that the Family Support Act of 1988 in Congress and later adopted by Massachusetts had established an inconsistency standard to determine whether child support should be modified. Accordingly, the SJC held in Morales that the inconsistency standard was to be applied to all child support orders regardless of whether or not they were three (3) years or older. For more information about the new Child Support Guidelines and how they could affect you , please call my office to arrange a consultation.