Under Massachusetts law, both parents have a duty to support their child. When parents are no longer together, a parenting plan and custody have to be determined. Legal custody relates to rights and obligations with respect to the decision-making process for the welfare of the child. The parenting plan determines when the child spends time with each parent. In a situation where the child spends more time with one parent than the other, the parent who has more time is known as the custodial pr primary parent. The other parent is known as the non-custodial parent. Generally, the non-custodial parent pays child support to the custodial parent. In situations of shared parenting plans (equal time with each parent), child support is often paid by the larger wage earner to the lesser wage earner. The amount of child support is determined by the Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines.
Child support is different and unrelated to the emotional support provided by each of the parents. Child support is designed to ensure that both homes can provide a stable financial environment for the child. Child support is not dependent on which parent brings the child to the doctor or attends parent-teacher conferences or coaches the child’s youth sports teams. It is dependent on the income of the parties and the parenting schedule.
Some families try to avoid the court and legal battles by setting their own agreed-upon child support arrangements. In some cases, this even works—until it doesn’t. Without a formal court order to substantiate an agreement, a parent receiving money can allege the other isn’t holding up their end of the deal. If the paying parent cannot prove they have, in fact, been financially supporting their child, they may be hit with back child support. IF the Parties agree to vary from the Court Order but do not make a new Court Order, the child support recipient can even go after the payor for Contempt. Varying from a Court Order can have detrimental financial and legal consequences, such as increased wage garnishments, contempt charges, and more. It is important that child support be paid in a manner that can be tracked and via Court Order.
Whether you have a court-ordered agreement or another arrangement, you can protect yourself by keeping track of your child support payments. Below are some recommended steps you can take to avoid any doubt that you have fulfilled your financial child support obligations.
First, it’s best to avoid paying in cash. Cash is impossible to track. Unless you receive a receipt from the receiving parent, cash payments can virtually never be proven Checks and money orders are much easier to track. Direct deposits or payments via third party apps such as Venmo are also easy to maintain records of. Be sure to note in the memo section that the money is for a child support payment. If using money orders, save the receipts for your records.
Start keeping all receipts related to child care expenses. Document and track every cent you spend, no matter how small the bill is. Having proof of all payments and purchases made for the benefit of your child can go a long way if you are ever facing accusations regarding the support you provide.
You can also follow up payments with an email or text to the receiving parent confirming payments have been accepted. Save these communications to use as evidence in your favor should the need arise.
If the child support recipient has concerns about the payor actually paying, they can have the payor’s wages garnished via a wage assignment handled by the Department of Revenue’s Child Support Enforcement Division. A wage assignment is the process of deducting your child support payments directly from your wages. Another way to do this is to arrange for direct deposit into the child support recipient’s bank account if your employer allows you to do so voluntarily. Voluntary direct deposit is the easiest way to settle and prevent payment disputes. Parents do have the right to forgo wage assignment if both parents agree that support payments will be made directly to the other parent.
It’s important you understand your rights and obligations when it comes to your duty as a parent to support your child. When you need assistance navigating the legalities of Massachusetts family law, we’re here to help. If you need guidance on obtaining or enforcing court-ordered payments, or you need to provide proof of payment, contact our office today.