2021 Child Support Guidelines
These Child Support Guidelines supersede any previous Guidelines and are effective October 4, 2021.
The 2021 Child Support Guidelines worksheet is currently not fillable – meaning the new four-page form must be calculated by hand. A fillable form is in the works.
These child support guidelines shall take effect on October 4, 2021, and shall be applied to all child support orders and judgments entered as of October 4, 2021. In recognition of the priority of the interests of the children of the Commonwealth, these guidelines are formulated to be used by all of the justices of the Trial Court. There shall be a rebuttable presumption that these guidelines apply in all cases establishing or modifying a child support order, regardless of whether the parents of the child are married or unmarried, the order is temporary or final, or the Court is deciding whether to approve an agreement for child support. There shall also be a rebuttable presumption that the amount of the child support order calculated under these guidelines is the appropriate amount of child support to be ordered. These guidelines are based on various considerations, including, but not limited to, each parent’s earnings, income, and other evidence of ability to pay. These guidelines are intended to be of assistance to attorneys and to parties in determining what level of payment would be expected given the relative income levels of the parties. In all cases where an order for child support may be established or modified, a guidelines worksheet must be filled out, regardless of the income of the parties. It would be in your best interest to speak with an experienced Child Support Lawyer in Massachusetts.
Child Support Guidelines in Massachusetts
The Child Support Guidelines Task Force for the 2020-2021 review (“Task Force”) was convened by Chief Justice of the Trial Court Paula M. Carey in the summer of 2020 to undertake the quadrennial review of the Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines (“guidelines”) as required by federal regulations. See 45 C.F.R. § 302.56. An economic consultant, The Brattle Group, was selected after the Trial Court published a Request for Proposals through the Commonwealth’s official online procurement record site, COMMBUYS. The economic consultant provided information and research to the Task Force. The Task Force’s comprehensive review included assessing each section of the guidelines, line by line, as a whole and in subcommittees.
Throughout its review, the Task Force was cognizant that child support in Massachusetts seeks to reflect the incremental cost of raising a child, separate and distinct from expenses of other household members.
The Task Force’s role was limited to reviewing the guidelines and making recommendations to Chief Justice Carey. The Task Force heard testimony and reviewed the submissions of members of the public, attorneys, judges, and court staff. A number of the submitted comments addressed topics and issues beyond the scope of the Task Force, such as the statutory provisions relating to custody determinations, child support for children between the ages of 18 and 23, and the interplay between alimony and child support. The Task Force recognizes and agrees that these are important issues, however, the remedy for making statutory changes to address these issues is with the Legislature and not with the Task Force.
In formulating its recommendations, the Task Force considered public comments, written testimony, legal and economic research, information from the economic consultant, and the comments and experience of Task Force members. The Task Force recommended edits to simplify and clarify portions of the guidelines, as well as for policy considerations.
These guidelines include commentary to indicate the reasoning and intent behind the recommendations of the Task Force. Trial Court departments, parties, and attorneys may use the commentary to resolve questions of interpretation or application of the guidelines.
The Task Force recommended eliminating the word “litigant” from the Preamble and instead inserting “parties”, recognizing that not all cases involve litigation.
Child Support Guidelines in Massachusetts
- Sources of income
For purposes of these guidelines, income is defined as gross income from whatever source, regardless of whether that income is recognized by the Internal Revenue Code or reported to the Internal Revenue Service or state Department of Revenue or other taxing authority. However, income derived from a public assistance program or benefit that is based on the person’s financial circumstances (for example: TAFDC, SNAP, certain veterans’ benefits and supplemental security income (SSI) benefits) shall not be counted as income for either parent.
Sources of income include, but are not limited to, the following:
- salaries, wages, overtime and tips;
- income from self-employment;
- severance pay;
- interest and dividends;
- income derived from businesses/partnerships;
- social security retirement and social security disability insurance (SSDI), excluding any benefit due to a child’s own disability1;
- veterans’ benefits that are not based on a person’s financial circumstances;
- military pay and allowances, before allotments are deducted;
- insurance benefits, including those received for car accidents, disability and personal injury, but excluding reimbursements for property losses;
- workers’ compensation;
- unemployment compensation;
- distributions and income from trusts;
- capital gains in real and personal property transactions to the extent that they represent a regular source of income;
- spousal support received from a person not a party to this order;
- contractual agreements;
- perquisites or in-kind compensation to the extent that they represent a regular source of income;
- unearned income of children, in the Court’s discretion;
- income from life insurance or endowment contracts;
- income from interest in an estate, either directly or through a trust;
- lottery or gambling winnings received either in a lump sum or in the form of an annuity;
- prizes or awards;
- net rental income;
- funds received from earned income credit;
- income derived from stock options and similar incentives, excluding any income from the coverture portion allocated at the time of the divorce of the parties subject to this child support order; and
- any other form of income or compensation not specifically itemized above, including, but not limited to, alimony consistent with Calvin C. v. Amelia A., 99 Mass. App. Ct. 714 (2021).
1 If a parent receives social security retirement or SSDI benefits and the children of the parties receive a dependency benefit derived from that parent’s benefit, the amount of the dependency benefit shall be added to the gross income of that parent. See Rosenberg v. Merida, 428 Mass. 182 (1998); Schmidt v. McCulloch-Schmidt, 86 Mass. App. Ct. 902 (2014). This combined amount is that parent’s gross income for purposes of the child support calculation. However, in cases where parents share or split parenting time according to Section II. D. 2. and the retired or disabled parent is also the child support recipient, only the dependency benefit sent directly to the retired or disabled parent by the Social Security Administration should be added the income of that parent. The guidelines worksheet automatically recognizes this situation and makes the appropriate adjustment.
If the retired or disabled parent is the payor and the amount of the dependency benefit that the Social Security Administration sends to the recipient exceeds the child support obligation calculated under the guidelines, then the payor shall not have responsibility for payment of current child support in excess of the dependency benefit. However, if the guidelines are higher than the dependency benefit that derives from the payor’s benefit, the payor must pay the difference between the dependency benefit and the weekly child support amount under the guidelines. See Rosenberg v. Merida, 428 Mass. 182 (1998).
Commentary – Child Support Guidelines in Massachusetts
For clarification purposes, the Task Force recommended eliminating the phrase “means-tested” in Section I and instead inserting phrases that define and explain what is meant by “means-tested”, i.e., based on a person’s financial circumstances. The agency or organization managing the program or benefit sets the financial criteria/circumstances for eligibility. Only those people who are determined to be eligible receive the benefits based on the person’s financial circumstances.
In Section I. A. 9., the Task Force recommended clarifying the types of social security payments that are considered income for child support purposes, as there is much confusion regarding the differences between SSI, SSDI, and social security retirement. The guidelines worksheet requires the input of information regarding social security dependency benefits received in Line 2b and Line 2c and, if applicable, the guidelines worksheet adjusts that amount in Line 7c when calculating the child support amount, consistent with Rosenberg v. Merida, 428 Mass. 182 (1998) and Schmidt v. McCulloch-Schmidt, 86 Mass. App. Ct. 902 (2014).
However, the Task Force identified that in some cases – those where parents share or split parenting time according to Section II. D. 2. (box 1 or box 3 on the guidelines worksheet), and the retired or disabled parent is also the child support recipient, and the Social Security Administration is directly sending a dependency benefit to the payor – including the dependency benefit as income to the retired or disabled parent was inconsistent with the legal underpinnings of Rosenberg v. Merida, 428 Mass. 182 (1998). Accordingly, the Task Force recommended that in these situations only a dependency benefit sent directly to the retired or disabled parent by the Social Security Administration should be added to the income of the retired or disabled parent.
In Section I. A. 11., the Task Force clarified that military allotments are debits from income, rather than income itself. Military base pay, other forms of military pay, and military allowances, such as the Basic Housing Allowance, are sources of income.
The Task Force recommended adding Section I. A. 29. to highlight a type of income that is becoming a more common method of compensating employees. This recommendation does not change substantive law, but emphasizes that, under existing law, a person cannot avoid a child support obligation by choosing to be compensated with stock options or by otherwise reclassifying his or her income. See Ludwig v. Lamee-Ludwig, 91 Mass. App. Ct. 36 (2017); Wooters v. Wooters, 74 Mass. App. Ct. 839 (2009).
On June 10, 2021, the Appeals Court issued a decision that addressed whether certain alimony amounts should be included as income by the recipient and deducted by the payor when calculating child support. The Appeals Court noted that where one spouse is the sole payor of both alimony and child support, and alimony is calculated first, it is usually necessary to “us[e] the parties’ adjusted, postalimony incomes when calculating child support to avoid running afoul of G. L. c. 208, § 53 (c) (2) . . . .” Calvin C. v. Amelia A., 99 Mass. App. Ct. 714, 721 (2021). This approach would not be utilized where the parties are “subject to reciprocal orders, i.e., each party is both a payor and a recipient of support” or where alimony is not calculated first. Id. Reference to this income is included in Section I. A. 30.
Although the Task Force did not recommend any substantive changes to Section I. A., Sources of Income, it considered whether to do so in light of emerging areas of income-producing activities such as transportation networking companies, crowd funding, domain site flipping, and inconsistent, short-term home rentals. The Task Force determined that these income-producing activities were encompassed by the existing list of sources of income. The Task Force received public comment regarding means-tested and non means-tested veterans’ benefits and, in response, clarified that means-tested veterans’ benefits are a type of income that is not included as income for child support calculation purposes. Due to the complexity of determining whether a veteran’s benefit is means-tested, the Task Force strongly recommended that the Court should inquire regarding the benefit. If the Court determines that there has been misrepresentation of income to a taxing authority or on a court-filed financial statement and/or guidelines worksheet, the Court may be required to report the information to the appropriate authority. See Rule 2.15(B) of SJC Rule 3:09: Code of Judicial Conduct.
- Overtime and secondary jobs
- The Court may consider none, some, or all overtime income or income from a secondary job. In determining whether to disregard none, some or all income from overtime or a secondary job, due consideration must be given to the history of the income, the expectation that the income will continue to be available, the economic needs of the parties and the children, the impact of the overtime or secondary job on the parenting plan, and whether the overtime work is a requirement of the job.
- If after a child support order is entered, a payor or recipient begins to work overtime or obtains a secondary job, neither of which was worked prior to the entry of the order, there shall be a presumption that the overtime or secondary job income should not be considered in a future child support order.
The Task Force recommended striking the word “first” as it appeared in prior guidelines to clarify that all of the factors must be considered.
The Task Force considered and discussed Section I. C., D., E., and F, and did not recommend any changes.
The Task Force recommended continuation of the presumptive exclusion of certain overtime and secondary job income from the calculation of gross income for child support purposes. The Task Force rewrote and moved for clarification the sentence that previously read, “The Court may consider none, some, or all overtime income even if overtime was earned prior to the entry of the order.” The Task Force also determined that the language in this section applies to payors and recipients since the income of both parents is considered in setting a child support order.
- Self-employment and other business income
Income from self-employment, rent, royalties, proprietorship of a business, or joint ownership of a partnership or closely-held corporation is defined as gross receipts minus ordinary and necessary expenses required to produce income. In general, income and expenses from self- employment or operation of a business should be carefully reviewed to determine the appropriate level of gross income available to the parent to satisfy a child support obligation. In many cases, this amount will differ from a determination of business income for tax purposes.
Commentary 2017 – Child Support Guidelines in Massachusetts
The Task Force renamed, reorganized and refined this section to focus on issues related to self-employment and the operation of a business. The Task Force moved the language regarding imputing income to the newly created Section I. D. entitled, “Imputation of Income”. Because the Task Force felt it was redundant, it deleted from the guidelines the sentence, “The calculation of income for purposes of this section may increase gross income by certain deductions or other adjustments taken for income tax purposes.”. The Appeals Court noted in Whelan v. Whelan, 74 Mass. App. Ct. 616, 626-27 (2009), “in determining income from self-employment, a judge must determine whether claimed business deductions are reasonable and necessary to the production of income, without regard to whether those deductions may be claimed for Federal or State income tax purposes.” As further direction, the Appeals Court noted in an unpublished decision, Zoffreo v. Zoffreo, 76 Mass. App. Ct. 1105 (2010), “[t]he fact that [a parent] is permitted under the tax laws to deduct an amount for depreciation does not mean that those funds, which are not out of pocket expenses, are not available to pay child support.”
For additional decisional guidance regarding calculating gross income, the Supreme Judicial Court held “that a determination whether and to what extent the undistributed earnings of an S corporation should be deemed available income to meet a child support obligation must be made based on the particular circumstances presented in each case.” J.S. v. C.C., 454 Mass. 652, 662-63 (2009). The Supreme Judicial Court included a non-exhaustive list of relevant factors to consider when making this determination, such as “a shareholder’s level of control over corporate distributions”, “the legitimate business interests justifying corporate earnings”, the “affirmative evidence of an attempt to shield income by means of retained earnings”, and “the allocation of burden of proof in relation to the Page 8 of 21 treatment of an S corporation’s undistributed earnings for purposes of determining income available for child support[.]” J.S. v. C.C., 454 Mass. 652, 662-65 (2009).
In Fehrm-Cappuccino v. Cappuccino, 90 Mass. App. Ct. 525 (2016), the Appeals Court addressed the appropriateness of including rental income when determining income for child support purposes. The decision notes that “there is no risk of double counting, where ‘neither the value of [the father’s interest in [the asset]] nor the [father’s] ability to earn income is diminished by treating the [father’s interest in [the asset]] as a marital asset as well as a source of income by which [the father] can meet his support obligations.’” Fehrm-Cappuccino v. Cappuccino, 90 Mass. App. Ct. 525, 528 (2016) (quoting Champion v. Champion, 54 Mass. App. Ct. 215, 221 (2002)).
- Imputation of income
- When the Court finds that a parent has, in whole or in part, undocumented or unreported income, the Court may reasonably impute income to the parent based on all the evidence submitted, including, but not limited to, evidence of the parent’s ownership and maintenance of assets, and the parent’s lifestyle, expenses and spending patterns.
- Expense reimbursements, in-kind payments or benefits received by a parent, personal use of business property, and payment of personal expenses by a business in the course of employment, self-employment, or operation of a business may be included as income if such payments are significant and reduce personal living expenses.
- In circumstances where the Court finds that a parent has unreported income, the Court may adjust the amount of income upward by a reasonable percentage to take into account the absence of income taxes that normally would be due and payable on the unreported income.
The Task Force renamed, reorganized and refined the section previously entitled, “Unreported Income” to focus on issues related to the imputation of income. Income may be imputed when there are actual resources available to the parent that are not reported for tax purposes.
In general terms, undocumented income is income that does not result in the issuance of a tax reporting form. Unreported income is any income that is received and required to be reported that the taxpayer does not report on his or her taxes.
The Appeals Court decision in Crowe v. Fong, 45 Mass. App. Ct. 673 (1988) is instructional regarding Section I. D. 2. In Crowe, the payor earned $275 per week working at a business owned by his mother, lived rent-free in a home owned by his father, and had use of a vehicle. The Appeals Court upheld the trial judge’s “characterization of [the payor’s] free use of the home as ‘perquisite or in-kind income’ for purposes of calculating his support obligation under the guidelines[.]” Crowe v. Fong, 45 Mass. App. Ct. 673, 680-81 (1988).
- Attribution of income
- Income may be attributed where a finding has been made that either parent is capable of working and is unemployed or underemployed.
- If the Court makes a determination that either parent is earning less than he or she could earn through reasonable effort, the Court should consider potential earning capacity rather than actual earnings in making its child support order.
- The Court shall consider the age, number, needs and care of the children covered by the child support order. The Court shall also consider the specific circumstances of the parent, to the extent known and presented to the Court, including, but not limited to, the assets, residence, education, training, job skills, literacy, criminal record and other employment barriers, age, health, past employment and earnings history, as well as the parent’s record of seeking work, and the availability of employment at the attributed income level, the availability of employers willing to hire the parent, and the relevant prevailing earnings level in the local community.
Commentary 2017 – Child Support Guidelines in Massachusetts
The Task Force reorganized and refined this section for clarification and to distinguish attributed income from imputed income. Income is attributed to a parent when the Court determines a parent is capable of earning more than is currently being earned and assigns a hypothetical amount of income to the parent. The Task Force, in consideration of the January 2017 changes to 45 C.F.R. § 302.56 (c) (2017), revised the factors to be considered when attributing income to a parent.
In P.F. v. Department of Revenue, 90 Mass. App. Ct. 707 (2016), the Appeals Court addressed attribution of income where the payor is incarcerated. “‘Income may be attributed where a finding has been made that [the payor] is capable of working and is unemployed or underemployed,’ . . . or where the payor owns ‘substantial assets.’” P.F. v. Department of Revenue, 90 Mass. App. Ct. 707, 710 (2016) (quoting Wasson v. Wasson, 81 Mass. App. Ct. 574, 581 (2012), quoting from Flaherty v. Flaherty, 40 Mass. App. Ct. 289, 291 (1996)). However, where there is “no income or assets from which to pay child support”, the Court may not attribute income to the payor based on the payor’s prior earning capacity, even if the payor is incarcerated due to committing a crime against the child for whom child support is being paid. P.F. v. Department of Revenue, 90 Mass. App. Ct. 707, 710-11 (2016).
2021 Child Support Guidelines Section II: Factors to be considered in setting the child support order
Section II of Massachusetts child support guidelines covers factors the parties and the Court must consider when determining child support.
- Relationship to alimony or separate maintenance payments
- These guidelines were developed with the understanding that alimony is for the support of a spouse, while child support is for the support of children.
- These guidelines were developed with the understanding that child support is non- deductible by the payor and non-taxable to the recipient. These guidelines do not preclude the Court from deciding that any support order be designated in whole or in part as alimony or unallocated support without it being deemed a deviation, provided that the tax consequences are considered in determining the support order and the after-tax support received by the recipient is not diminished. The parties have the responsibility to present to the Court the tax consequences of proposed orders.
- Chapter 124 of the Acts of 2011, entitled, “An Act Reforming Alimony in the Commonwealth”, amended G. L. c. 208 and prohibits the use of gross income which the Court has already considered in making a child support order from being used again in determining an alimony order. See G. L. c. 208, § 53 (c) (2). At any combined income level, the Court and the parties may consider preparing alternate calculations of alimony and child support, as well as an unallocated support order, to determine the most equitable result for the children and the parties. Depending upon the circumstances, such as the total amount of support that would be available to each household, it may be appropriate to calculate alimony first, and in other circumstances it may be appropriate to calculate child support first. Judicial discretion is necessary and deviations shall be considered. An unallocated support order is not a deviation and, as such, does not require findings.
The Task Force extensively discussed the continuing challenges with G. L. c. 208, § 53 (c) (2). Many of the public comments that the Task Force received addressed this issue. The Task Force discussed the practical concerns with the language of G. L. c. 208, § 53 (c) (2) – in some circumstances, a spouse with no children could receive more support than a spouse with children. The Task Force affirmed, after much thought and consideration, that alimony may be run first or second, depending on the facts of the case. The Task Force strongly urges the Court and parties to proactively run different support scenarios to determine what support order is appropriate for the family – specifically whether determining alimony first and then child support provides the appropriate support. The Task Force emphasized that, although an unallocated order does not currently have the same tax benefit as it did before the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, an unallocated order that blends alimony and child support may be appropriate.
The Task Force discussed the challenges related to the tax consequences of unallocated support. The Task Force recommended that the Court, especially in cases involving parties with disparate levels of income, consider an unallocated support order. By designating some, or all, of a payor’s support obligation as tax-deductible to the payor and a taxable payment to the recipient, a significant tax benefit may be achieved.
Under Fechtor v. Fechtor, 26 Mass. App. Ct. 859 (1989), it is the responsibility of the parties to bring the tax implications of a support order to the attention of the Court. Parties and attorneys should familiarize themselves with the applicable provisions of I.R.C. § 71, which provides specific rules that must be followed in order to fashion support orders that will be deemed tax-deductible under the Internal Revenue Code.
The relationship between alimony and child support remained an issue during this review as it was during the 2012 review. When issuing an alimony order, “the court shall exclude from its income calculation gross income which the court has already considered for setting a child support order.” G. L. c. 208, § 53 (c) (2). However, the converse is not stated in the statute.
Since the 2012 review and report, the Massachusetts appellate courts have not issued any decisions on point, nor has there been a statutory change. The Task Force discussed this conundrum and determined that, despite the desire to provide more instruction, no changes to this section were recommended at this time. The Task Force recommended that this issue be reviewed again during the next quadrennial review.
- Claims of personal exemptions for child dependents
In setting a support order, the Court and the parties shall consider the allocation of personal exemptions for child dependents between the parties to the extent permitted by law.
The Task Force did not recommend any changes to this section.
The Task Force refined this section to emphasize the importance of considering the allocation of the dependency exemptions.
- Minimum and maximum levels
- These guidelines are intended to balance the need to protect a minimum subsistence level for those parents obligated to pay child support and the obligation of all parents to contribute to the support of their children. To that end, for those parents obligated to pay child support whose gross income is $210 per week or less, a minimum order of $12 per week should enter. For parents obligated to pay child support whose gross income is between $211 and $249 per week, the minimum order will vary between $12 per week and $20 per week. These minimums should not be construed as limiting the Court’s discretion to set a higher or lower order, including setting a child support order at $0, should circumstances warrant, as a deviation from the guidelines. See Section IV.
- These guidelines are calculated up to a maximum combined available annual gross income of the parties of $400,000. In cases where combined available income is over $400,000, the guidelines should be applied on the first $400,000 in the same proportion as the recipient’s and payor’s actual income as provided on Line 3c of the guidelines worksheet. In cases where income exceeds this limit, the Court should consider the award of support at the $400,000 level as the minimum presumptive order. The child support obligation for the portion of combined available income that exceeds $400,000 shall be at the discretion of the Court. However, 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%).
Commentary – Child Support Guidelines in Massachusetts
The Task Force examined the minimum and maximum levels. The Task Force recognized that the prior minimum order of $25 per week resulted in some payors not having sufficient funds to support themselves. To address this concern, the Task Force created two tranches at the minimum level in Table A of the guidelines worksheet for payors with income up to $249 per week, to include all payors with income below the 2021 U.S. Federal Poverty Guidelines. For payors with gross income up to $210 per week, the minimum weekly order is $12. For payors with gross income between $211 and $249 per week, the minimum weekly order is $12 plus 20% above $210 which calculates to between $12 and $20 per week.
The Task Force recommended increasing the maximum level to $400,000 of combined available income, as the maximum level has not been increased since 2009. The maximum level of $400,000 was recommended after considering the maximum income levels in other states’ guidelines and the higher levels of income and costs in Massachusetts relative to other states. There are now six tranches between $250 and $7,692 in weekly combined available income. The eight tranches can be seen in Table A of the guidelines worksheet.
The guidelines worksheet calculates the amount by which each parent’s available income exceeds the maximum level. The Task Force discussed wide ranging examples of how income exceeding the maximum level is then used in calculating the child support order amount. The economic consultant observed that, from an economic perspective, simply rerunning the guidelines worksheet on the amounts above the maximum level is objectively incorrect because that approach applies the higher percentages in Table A of the guidelines worksheet for lower income levels. 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 10% applied to the highest income level listed in Table A of the guidelines worksheet.
The Task Force considered whether the minimum support order required adjustment. The minimum support order has not changed since 2002 when it was established at $18.46 per week. After discussion, the Task Force recommended that the minimum support order be increased to $25 per week. This increase is consistent with economic data on the increase in the overall cost of living in Massachusetts since 2002. The guidelines chart has been adjusted to reflect that the minimum support order applies to combined available income up to $115 per week.
For informational assistance with regard to child support when the parents’ combined gross income is over $250,000, section 6 of the guidelines worksheet calculates the amount by which each parent’s available income exceeds $250,000. Child support based on income above $250,000 is discretionary. The excess income information in section 6 of the guidelines worksheet may be considered on a case-by-case basis.
- Parenting time
- These guidelines recognize that children should enjoy parenting time with both parents to the greatest extent possible consistent with the children’s best interests. The basic calculations under these guidelines are based upon the children having a primary residence with one parent and spending approximately one-third of the time with the other parent.
- These guidelines apply to all types of parenting plan schedules. Information regarding whether the parents share financial responsibility and parenting time for the children approximately equally (shared), whether the children reside primarily with one parent for approximately 2/3 of the time, and whether, in a family with more than one child covered by the order, each parent provides a primary residence for at least one child (split) is entered directly into the guidelines worksheet. The guidelines worksheet will calculate the presumptive child support order based on the information entered into the guidelines worksheet.
- Where parenting time is substantially less than one-third for the parent who is not the residential parent, the Court may consider deviation by an upward adjustment to the amount calculated under the guidelines worksheet. See Section IV. B. 8.
The Task Force did not recommend any substantive changes to this section. However, the Task Force observed that in Luce v. Folino-Inadoli, an unpublished memorandum and decision pursuant to Rule 23 of the Appeals Court, a judge’s decision to adopt a hybrid approach to calculating a child support order when the parties’ parenting plan did not fall precisely into any of the three parenting plans provided for in the guidelines worksheet was upheld. See Luce v. Folino-Inadoli, 99 Mass. App. Ct. 1103 (December 17, 2020). The judge ran the guidelines under box 1 and under box 2 on the guidelines worksheet. The judge entered an order that did not adopt the child support amount from either calculation and instead “required the father to pay a reduced child support order of one hundred dollars per week to the mother. This hybrid approach reflects a deviation that is grounded in the circumstances of the parties and the best interests of the children. On this record, the judge did not abuse his discretion. See L.L. v. Commonwealth, 470 Mass. 169, 185 n.27 (2014).”
This section was amended to eliminate the directions on how the guidelines should be calculated based on the type of parenting plan. The directions are no longer necessary because of the newly-designed worksheet effective on June 15, 2018. This section now reflects that one worksheet is used to calculate the presumptive child support order for shared, split and approximately 2/3 and 1/3 parenting plans.
The Task Force discussed at length the consequences of the changes that were incorporated by the 2012 Task Force with regard to when parenting time is more than one-third but less than fifty percent. The Task Force agreed that the provision relating to these circumstances needed to be eliminated. The Task Force considered public comment, attorney and judicial experience, the 2008 Report of the Child Support Guidelines Task Force, and the Final Report of the 2012 Task Force when making this determination. The 2012 change increased litigation and acrimony between parents, shifted the focus from a parenting plan that is in the best interests of the children to a contest about a parenting plan that attempts to reduce a child support order, and failed to create the consistency in child support orders that it sought to create.
The Task Force suggested that the first step in determining a child support order is actually creating a parenting plan that is best for the children, recognizing that children should enjoy parenting time with both parents to the greatest extent possible consistent with the children’s best interests. Child support should not be driving the parenting plan. Once the parenting plan is established, then calculations may occur. It is important to note again here that the Task Force specifically created a principle regarding the appropriate use of a deviation where the circumstances of a family require one. See Principles, Principle 5.
The Task Force recommended deleting the provisions inserted in the 2009 guidelines that limited the deduction of other support orders from gross income when making certain calculations related to parenting time. This Task Force was unable to determine why the provisions were included, and thus determined that equity required their deletion.
- Child care costs
- Reasonable child care costs of up to $355 per week, per child for the children covered by the child support order and due to gainful employment of either parent are shared by the parents in proportion to their share of combined available income. To determine the amount of child care costs to be shared by the parents, the guidelines worksheet requires the input of information regarding the number of children for whom child care is being paid and the total cost of the child care paid per week.
- In appropriate circumstances, child care costs may include those child care costs incurred due to training or education reasonably necessary to obtain gainful employment or enhance earning capacity. The Court may consider a deviation where the child care cost is extraordinary. See Section IV. B. 7.
Commentary – Child Support Guidelines in Massachusetts
The Task Force extensively discussed child care costs and how these costs should be apportioned between parents, while also understanding that child care costs in Massachusetts are very expensive. The Task Force recommended eliminating both the deduction of child care costs paid from the parent’s gross income and the 15% cap on the child care credit from the 2017/2018 guidelines. The Task Force felt 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. The benchmark represents the average cost of center-based infant care in Massachusetts as reported by the Massachusetts Department of Early Education’s Market Rate Survey of Child Care Costs. Although the benchmark is set at the average cost for center-based infant care, parents with older children are only responsible for proportionally sharing the actual amount spent on child care up to this benchmark. The benchmark amount does not mandate that parents spend $355 on child care per child, per week; it simply establishes 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. To account for situations where more than one child receives child care, the guidelines worksheet multiplies the benchmark amount by the number of children receiving child care. In making its recommendations, the Task Force acknowledged that these changes may significantly increase child support orders. Judges should continue to consider deviation where appropriate, especially where the overall current child support order is more than 40% of the payor’s available income as listed in Line 3a of the guidelines worksheet. See Section IV. C. Line 7e of the guidelines worksheet indicates whether the overall support order is more than 40% of the payor’s available income.
The Task Force discussed at length how to address the concerns raised by many people regarding the significant costs of child care. The Task Force recommended a proportional adjustment to the child support order based on child care and health care costs. The proportional adjustment for the costs is not dollar-for-dollar because the significant costs of child care and health care coverage could unfairly skew a child support order. Instead, the adjustment is capped, either up or down, at fifteen percent of the child support order.
- Child support for children between the ages of 18 and 23
- By statute, the Court has discretion either to order or to decline to order child support for children age 18 or older. If the Court exercises its discretion to order child support for children age 18 or older, the guidelines formula reduces the amount of child support in accordance with Table C of the guidelines worksheet. For the guidelines calculation to account for families with children both under age 18 and age 18 or older, the guidelines worksheet requires the input of information regarding the number of children age 18 or older and under age 18.
- A child age 18 or older who is enrolled in and attending high school shall be deemed to be under age 18 for purposes of the guidelines and Table C, absent deviation.
- In determining whether to order child support for a child age 18 or older, the Court shall consider the reason for the child’s continued residence with and principal dependence on the recipient, the child’s academic circumstances, the child’s living situation, the available resources of each parent, and each parent’s contribution to the costs of post-secondary education for the child and/or other children of the family. The Court may also consider any other relevant factors.
The Task Force recommended changing “the available resources of the parents” to “the available resources of each parent” to emphasize that each parent’s resources, including, but not limed to, savings, should be considered separately. The Task Force noted that the increase in the adjustment factors for more than one child in Table B of the guidelines worksheet impacts the adjustment percentages for children between the ages of 18 and 23 in Table C. This is because the percentages in Table C are based on the combination of the 25% reduction for children between the ages of 18 and 23 and the adjustments for the number of children. As a result, the higher adjustment factors in Table B result in higher adjustment factors in Table C for families with children both under age 18 and age 18 and over.
This section was amended to reflect the changes in Table B and Table C in the June 2018 amendments. In the June 2018 amendments, the September 2017 Table B was split into two separate tables. Table B now lists the adjustment factors for the number of children, and Table C lists the adjustment percentages for children’s ages. The application of the adjustment percentages in this section was revised by the Trial Court to eliminate counter-intuitive outcomes in support orders for four or five children, at least one being 18 years of age or older. The age adjustments in the September 2017 Table B were based on applying the 25 percent discount listed in the guidelines in equal proportion to the number of children 18 years of age or older. The age adjustment percentages in the June 2018 Table C are based on applying the 25 percent discount to the oldest children last. That is, the 25 percent discount is applied only to the increases in child support for additional children, rather than to the overall amount of support. The children 18 years of age or older are accounted for last in this calculation to fully preserve the increases in child support for additional younger children.
The Task Force renamed and restructured the section previously entitled, “Age of the Children”. The Task Force clarified that these guidelines apply in all cases where a child support order is established or modified and not just in cases involving children under age 18. See 45 C.F.R. § 302.56 (a) (2017). That Massachusetts by statute allows for, but does not require, child support until age 23 does not negate the federal requirement that the guidelines must apply in all cases. However, the C.F.R. does not mandate that the guidelines be identical for children of all ages. For dependent children between 18 and 21, child support may be ordered if the dependent child is domiciled with a parent and is principally dependent on that parent. See G. L. c. 208, § 28, G. L. c. 209C, § 9 and G. L. c. 209, § 37.
For dependent children between 21 and 23, child support may be ordered if the dependent child is domiciled with a parent and is principally dependent on that parent due to enrollment in an educational program, as long as the program is not beyond an undergraduate degree. See id. Although the Task Force received public comment suggesting that child support end at age 18, the Task Force did not amend the provision retaining discretion in entering child support orders for children between the ages of 18 and 23 because this discretion is statutory. The Task Force strongly recommended that, until or unless the Massachusetts Legislature amends the child support statutes to clarify that child support is mandatory through graduation of high school, the Court consider child support orders for those children who have turned 18 but are still in high school as mandatory rather than permissive.
Because these guidelines apply to all child support orders, including those for children up to age 23, the Task Force discussed whether the application of the guidelines through the guidelines worksheet should result in a reduction in the base amount of child support for children who are age 18 or older and not attending high school, but nevertheless eligible for child support pursuant to Massachusetts law. The Task Force agreed that a twenty-five percent reduction is appropriate as it takes into consideration factors typical of this age group. For example, the child may be living away at school thereby reducing some of the household expenses for the recipient or the child may be living at home and is not enrolled in a post-secondary educational program and should be working and contributing to the household expenses. The reduction balances the requirement imposed by federal regulation that all child support orders are the product of a formula established by guidelines, while also considering important factors unique to children between the ages of 18 and 23. See M.C. v. T.K., 463 Mass. 226, 231 (2012) (“The Chief Justice of the Trial Court is authorized to promulgate guidelines establishing presumptive child support awards, based on articulated principles and calculated according to specified mathematical formulas.”) Nothing in this section limits the ability of the Court to deviate from the presumptive order where appropriate. For example, the child may be living at home and commuting to a post-secondary educational program.
This section shall not be construed to change the rule set forth in Feinberg v. Diamant, 378 Mass. 131 (1979) allowing the Court to require a financially able parent to “contribute to the support of an adult child who by reason of mental or physical infirmity incurs expenses that he or she is unable to meet.” Feinberg v. Diamant, 378 Mass. 131, 134 (1979). These matters are addressed in equity actions.
- Contribution to post-secondary educational expenses
- By statute, the Court has discretion either to order or to decline to order a parent to contribute to post-secondary educational expenses. Contribution to post-secondary educational expenses is not presumptive.
- In determining whether to order contribution to post-secondary educational expenses, the Court shall consider the cost of the post-secondary education, the child’s aptitudes, the child’s living situation, the available resources of each parent and child, and the availability of financial aid. The Court may also consider any other relevant factors.
- No parent shall be ordered to pay an amount in excess of fifty percent of the undergraduate, in-state resident costs of the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, unless the Court enters written findings that a parent has the ability to pay a higher amount. Costs for this purpose are defined as mandatory fees, tuition, and room and board for the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, as set out in the “Published Annual College Costs Before Financial Aid” in the College Board’s Annual Survey of Colleges. This section applies to all orders requiring parental contribution to post-secondary educational expenses, regardless of where the child resides or attends school.
- If exercising its discretion to order both child support for a child over age 18 and contribution to the child’s post-secondary educational expenses, the Court shall consider the combined amount of both orders.
In Section II. G. 2., the Task Force recommended changing “the available resources of the parents” to “the available resources of each parent” to emphasize that each parent’s resources, including, but not limited to, savings, should be considered separately. The Task Force felt that it was important to emphasize that the Court should consider whether one parent had saved for post-secondary education expenses, while the other parent did not save, but had had the ability to do so. There should not be a penalty for saving for post-secondary educational expenses.
The Task Force considered whether Section II. G. 2. needed revisions in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and determined that the language as written was sufficient to address any temporary changes in post-secondary education that might have occurred because of the pandemic.
In Section II. G. 3., the Task Force retained the University of Massachusetts – Amherst as the benchmark for determining the parental share of post-secondary educational expenses. Although not the most expensive Massachusetts state college when these guidelines became effective, the University of Massachusetts – Amherst remains the flagship state college in Massachusetts.
In Section II. G. 4., the Task Force recommended language to clarify that ordering both child support for a child over age 18 and post-secondary education expenses is discretionary, but, if both are ordered, then the combined amount of the orders must be considered.
The Task Force created a new section to address the complexity of contributions to post-secondary educational expenses. Post-secondary educational expenses have increased exponentially since 1976 when the Massachusetts Legislature amended statutes to permit the Court to order parents to pay for educational expenses. Overall, both public and private four-year college expenses for fees, tuition, room and board, have increased approximately 250%, as adjusted for inflation. See College Board, Annual Survey of Colleges, 2017. The Task Force shared the pervasive concern that many parents cannot pay post-secondary educational expenses from their income, while meeting other expense obligations. The Task Force intended to discourage orders requiring parents to incur liability for loans in excess of state university costs unless the parents agree to accept such liabilities. The Task Force also intended an expense limitation to provide general uniformity in court-ordered, post-secondary educational expenses contributions.
The limitation on post-secondary educational expenses orders is recommended for most cases, but it is not mandatory. The Task Force does not intend the limitation to apply to children already enrolled in post-secondary education before the effective date of these guidelines or to parents who are financially able to pay educational expenses using assets or other resources.
The University of Massachusetts-Amherst was designated as the benchmark for maximum orders because it was the flagship, and most expensive, Massachusetts state college when these guidelines became effective.
- Health care coverage
- Each parent may deduct from gross income the reasonable cost of the individual or family health care premium/enrollment actually paid by that parent. If there is an additional cost to insure a person not covered by this order, and the Court determines that such additional cost would unreasonably impact the amount of child support, then some or all of such additional cost shall not be deducted.
- When the Court makes an order for child support, the order shall include a provision for health care coverage for the child in accordance with the following:
- The Court shall enter an order that requires either parent to provide health care coverage if such coverage is available at reasonable cost and accessible to the child. If the Court determines that an order for health care coverage is not in the best interest of the child or creates an undue hardship for either parent, then the Court shall enter written findings.
- If a parent has enrolled a child in MassHealth, or an equivalent program in another state that is substantially similar to the program established in G. L. c. 118E, the Court shall order that parent to maintain such coverage as long as the child remains eligible; provided, however, that the Court may also order the other parent to enroll the child in private health insurance if: (i) private health insurance is available to that parent at reasonable cost and accessible to the child; (ii) enrollment in the insurance is in the best interest of the child; and (iii) enrollment in the insurance will not create an undue hardship for either parent.
- For the purposes of this section: (i) health care coverage shall be deemed reasonable in cost if the cost to the party ordered to provide health care coverage does not exceed 5 per cent of the gross income of the party; (ii) health care coverage shall be deemed accessible to the child if covered services are available within 15 miles of the child’s primary residence; (iii) health care coverage includes private health insurance available through employment, union affiliation or otherwise, and public health coverage administered by the Title XIX agency; and (iv) private health insurance shall be deemed not available at reasonable cost to a parent whose gross income does not exceed 150 per cent of the federal poverty guidelines for the family size or who receives MassHealth on behalf of themselves or the child.
- If health care coverage pursuant to this section is not available to either parent at the time the order is entered, the Court shall order the parties to notify the IV-D agency if such coverage becomes available.
The Task Force discussed and recommended eliminating the 15% cap on the health care credit that was included in the 2017/2018 guidelines. Although parties will not receive a credit for health care costs paid, parties will still be allowed to deduct certain health care costs actually paid. However, as noted in the guidelines, “If there is an additional cost to insure a person not covered by this order, and the Court determines that such additional cost would unreasonably impact the amount of child support, then some or all of such additional cost shall not be deducted.” The Task Force deleted the word “coverage” and replaced it with “premium/enrollment” to clarify what can be deducted on the guidelines worksheet.
This section was also amended to reflect the many statutory changes that occurred in July 2019. See G. L. c. 119, § 28; c. 119A, § 12; c. 208, § 28; c. 209, §§ 32, 37; c. 209C, § 9.
The Task Force renamed, reorganized, and revised this section. The phrase “health care coverage” was changed from “health insurance” to reflect recent changes in federal law, which now references both private and public health care coverage. Under federal regulations, child support guidelines must “[a]ddress how the parents will provide for the child’s health care needs through private or public health care coverage and/or through cash medical support.” 45 C.F.R. § 302.56 (c) (2) (2017) (emphasis added). Under 45 C.F.R. § 303.31 (a) (3), “[c]ash medical support or the cost of health insurance is considered reasonable in cost if the cost to the parent responsible for providing medical support does not exceed five percent of his or her gross income or, at State option, a reasonable alternative income-based numeric standard defined in State law, regulations or court rule having the force of law or State child support guidelines adopted in accordance with § 302.56(c) of [Chapter 45].” The Massachusetts Legislature has not amended G. L. c. 119A to reflect the federal definition of reasonableness or to grant the authority to order cash medical support. Nor does G. L. c. 119A allow the Court to order either parent to provide health care coverage. See G. L. c. 119A, § 12 (b) (5). The Task Force strongly recommended that the Massachusetts Legislature amend G. L. c. 119A to be consistent with the federal regulations.
The Task Force also made revisions that more clearly reflect the statutory requirements relating to orders for health care coverage. Before requiring a payor to obtain health care coverage, the Court must determine that such coverage is available at reasonable cost, “provided that the cost of such coverage does not create an undue hardship upon the [payor].” G. L. c. 119A, § 12 (b) (5). Because “undue hardship” is not defined by statute or case law, factors relating to determining whether an order of health care coverage creates an undue hardship on the payor are included in these guidelines. There are circumstances where the combined child support order and the cost to the payor for obtaining and maintaining health care coverage exceed the amount allowed under law to be ordered withheld from a payor’s income. If health care coverage is ordered in these circumstances, and the costs for the health care coverage are deducted from the payor’s income before the child support order is paid, the child support order is not paid in full and the payor accrues child support arrears. For purposes of this section, an undue hardship may occur if the combined health care coverage and child support order exceeds statutory garnishment limits. The Task Force determined that it was appropriate to adopt the percentage of poverty level that MassHealth’s Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) uses for eligibility screening. See http://children.massbudget.org/masshealth. The Court retains the discretion to consider other relevant factors in making the determination regarding undue hardship.
If health care coverage is not currently available at a reasonable cost or the payment of health care coverage causes an undue hardship, the Task Force removed the requirement that the Court enter an order requiring the payor to obtain and maintain health care coverage for the child if and when the parent has access to such coverage. Instead, the Task Force added a provision that requires the payor to notify the IV-D agency or the recipient if health care coverage becomes available. If health care coverage becomes available, a modification of the child support order may be appropriate to reflect the cost of such coverage, as well as to determine whether there is any undue hardship.
In addition to child care costs, the Task Force also discussed at length how to address the concerns raised by many people regarding the significant costs of health care coverage. The Task Force recommended a proportional adjustment to the child support order based on child care and health care costs. The proportional adjustment for the costs is not dollar-for-dollar because the significant costs of child care and health care coverage could unfairly skew a child support order. Instead, the adjustment is capped, either up or down, at fifteen percent of the child support order.
The Task Force recommended that, where appropriate, the Court should examine whether the parent who seeks to deduct the total amount of health care coverage is including in that total amount the cost for covering persons not covered by the order under consideration. In that circumstance, the Court may determine that some or all of the additional cost should not be deducted from gross income on the guidelines worksheet.
- Dental/vision insurance
- Each parent may deduct from gross income the reasonable cost actually paid by that parent of dental/vision insurance insuring the children covered by this order.
- If there is an additional cost to insure a person not covered by this child support order, and the Court determines such additional cost would unreasonably reduce the amount of child support, then some or all of such additional cost shall not be deducted from gross income.
- The cost of dental/vision insurance insuring the children covered by this order is included on the guidelines worksheet in the combined child care and health care costs adjustment.
The Task Force considered and discussed this section and did not recommend any changes.
The Task Force reorganized this section. The Task Force determined that the costs of the dental and vision insurance covering children under this order shall be included as a component of the child care and health care adjustment.
- Uninsured medical and dental/vision expenses
Routine out-of-pocket and uninsured medical and dental/vision expenses and extraordinary out-of-pocket and uninsured medical and dental/vision expenses
- The recipient shall be responsible for payment of the first $250 each year in combined routine out-of-pocket and uninsured medical and dental/vision expenses for all the children covered by this child support order. For amounts above that limit, at the time of entry of an order establishing or modifying the child support order, the Court shall enter an order allocating expenses between the parties without adjustment to the child support order.
- The payment of extraordinary out-of-pocket and uninsured medical and dental/vision expenses incurred for the children, absent agreement of the parties, shall be treated on a case-by- case basis (for example: orthodontia, psychological/psychiatric counseling, etc.). Where the Court makes a determination that such medical and dental/vision services are necessary and are in the best interests of the children, the Court shall allocate such expenses between the parties.
This section was amended to clarify what these costs entail. Routine out-of-pocket expenses refer to expenses paid when there is medical/dental/vision coverage, but the coverage does not cover all expenses, such as co-payments and deductibles. Uninsured medical/dental/vision expenses refer to expenses paid where there is no medical/dental/vision coverage.
The Task Force reorganized the sections previously entitled, “Routine Uninsured Medical and Dental Expenses” and “Uninsured Extraordinary Medical and Dental Expenses” into one section without any substantive changes.
- Existing support obligations and responsibility for children not in the case under consideration
- When an initial order or a modification of an existing order is sought for a child covered by the order in the case under consideration, the amount actually paid by a parent pursuant to a pre-existing support order for a child or spouse not in the case under consideration shall be deducted from the gross income of that parent where that parent provides sufficient proof of the order and payments made. Payments on arrearages shall not be deducted from gross income.
- When an initial order or a modification of an existing order is sought for a child covered by the order in the case under consideration, the amount of voluntary payments actually paid to support a child not in the case under consideration and with whom the parent does not reside shall be deducted from the gross income of that parent, but only to the extent the Court determines the payments to be reasonable. The parent who seeks the deduction must provide sufficient proof of the legal obligation to support the child and of actual payments made to the other parent or guardian.
- When an initial order or a modification of an existing order is sought for a child covered by the order in the case under consideration, a hypothetical amount of child support for a child with whom the parent resides but for whom no child support order exists shall be deducted from the gross income of the parent. The parent seeking the deduction must provide sufficient proof of the legal obligation to support the child and of the gross income of that child’s other parent. The hypothetical child support amount shall be calculated according to the guidelines worksheet using the gross incomes of both parents of the child for whom the hypothetical child support amount is being calculated.
- Obligations to a subsequent family may be used as a defense to a request to modify an order seeking an increase in the existing order, but such obligations should not be considered a reason to decrease an existing order.
The Task Force considered and discussed this section and did not recommend any changes.
The Task Force recommended changes to this section to clarify the different circumstances that may result in a deduction from gross income when a parent has a legal responsibility to support a child not part of the case currently being considered. The Task Force clarified that where applicable either parent may seek the deductions from gross income and that sufficient proof must be provided. The Task Force reviewed language from the New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, and Tennessee child support guidelines to assist in drafting the clarifications.
In Department of Revenue v. Mason M., the Supreme Judicial Court endorsed the use of deducting a hypothetical support order from a parent’s gross income where that parent had multiple children to support. Department of Revenue v. Mason M., 439 Mass. 665, 671-72 (2003). However, to calculate a hypothetical amount of child support, the gross incomes of both parents of that child must be used. This calculation can be difficult to compute because the Court does not have the non-party parent’s gross income. The burden is on the parent who seeks to deduct a hypothetical amount to provide to the Court the information necessary for calculating the hypothetical amount, including the non-party parent’s gross income.
- Families with more than one child
The guidelines formula applies to families with one to five children. For more than five children, the order should be at least the amount ordered for five children. Table B of the guidelines worksheet includes the child support adjustment for more than one child.
The Task Force renamed the section previously entitled, “Families with More Than Five Children”. Table B of the guidelines worksheet sets the adjustment factors used to calculate child support when the child support order is for more than one child. The Task Force discussed whether the adjustment factors should be increased and recommended that they should be. Based on a combination of economic data and policy considerations, the incremental cost for each additional child was increased to 40% for two children, 20% for three children, 10% for four children, and 5% for five children. As a result of the increases to the incremental cost for each additional child, the adjustment factors in Table B of the guidelines worksheet were changed to: 1.4 for two children, 1.68 for three children, 1.85 for four children, and 1.94 for five children. The previous adjustment factors were: 1.25 for two children, 1.38 for three children, 1.45 for four children, and 1.48 for five children.
The Task Force did not recommend any substantive changes to this section.
- Contribution to other child-related expenses
In cases where the Court makes a determination that there are additional child-related expenses such as extra-curricular activities, private school, or summer camps, which are in the best interest of the child and which are affordable by the parties, the Court may allocate costs to the parties on a case-by-case basis.
The Task Force did not recommend any changes to this section.
The Task Force renamed this section for consistency. “Post-secondary education” was deleted from this section only because the Task Force created a new section that addresses contribution to post-secondary educational expenses. See Section II. G.
2021 Child Support Guidelines Section III: Modification
Section III of Massachusetts child support guidelines covers changes to existing child support orders.
A child support order may be modified if any of the circumstances listed below exist.
- There is an inconsistency between the amount of the existing order and the amount that would result from the application of the guidelines.
- Previously ordered health care coverage is no longer available.
- Previously ordered health care coverage is still available but no longer at a reasonable cost or without an undue hardship.
- Access to health care coverage not previously available to a parent has become available.
- Any other material and substantial change in circumstances has occurred.
Upon a request for modification of an order that deviated from the guidelines at the time it was entered, the Court shall apply the existing deviation to the modification action if:
- the facts that gave rise to deviation still exist; and
- deviation continues to be in the child’s best interest; and
- the guidelines amount would be unjust or inappropriate under the circumstances.
Section III. B. does not preclude deviations based on other grounds set forth in Section or grounds for modification as set forth in Section III. A.
The Task Force considered and discussed this section and did not recommend any changes.
The Task Force deleted Paragraph B of the 2013 guidelines because it was premised on the assumption that Massachusetts law provides for a separate standard to be used by the Court when the Department of Revenue is providing IV-D services in a case where the order is less than three years old. While the Department of Revenue is not required to use the inconsistency standard when determining whether to provide IV-D services to seek a modification of an order that is less than three years old, the Court must apply the inconsistency standard once any complaint for modification is filed and is before the Court. See 57 Fed. Reg. 61559, 61577 (1992). See also G. L. c. 208, § 28, G. L. c. 209C, § 20 and G. L. c. 209, § 37.
The Department of Revenue’s review process does not prohibit an individual from filing a complaint for modification on his or her own, regardless of whether the case is receiving IV-D services.
The Task Force refined the language to clarify that if circumstances that resulted in a deviation are still in existence during a modification action, those circumstances shall be considered to remain even though it may be appropriate to modify the existing order. For example, a child may have a medical condition that results in ongoing, extraordinary medical expenses and the existing child support order deviates from the guidelines amount. The recipient is now unemployed and files a complaint for modification. The underlying circumstances for the existing deviation remains; however, the Court also considers the additional circumstances.
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2021 Child Support Guidelines Section IV: Deviation
Section IV of Massachusetts child support guidelines covers deviation from the guidelines.
The Court, or the parties by agreement approved by the Court, may deviate from these guidelines and overcome the presumptive application of these guidelines, provided the Court enters specific written findings stating:
- the amount of the order that would result from application of the guidelines;
- that the guidelines amount would be unjust or inappropriate under the circumstances;
- the specific facts of the case which justify departure from the guidelines; and
- that such departure is consistent with the best interests of the child.
Circumstances which may support deviating, above or below the presumptive guidelines amount, including setting a child support order at $0, are as follows:
- the parties agree and the Court determines the agreement to be fair and reasonable and approves their agreement;
- a child has ongoing special needs or aptitudes with financial consequences;
- a child has ongoing extraordinary mental, physical, or developmental needs with financial consequences;
- a parent has ongoing extraordinary mental, physical, or developmental needs with financial consequences;
- a parent has extraordinary expenses for health care coverage;
- a parent has extraordinary travel or other expenses related to parenting time;
- a parent has extraordinary child care costs for the children covered by this order;
- a parent provides substantially less than one-third of the parenting time for a child or children;
- the payor is incarcerated and has insufficient financial resources to pay support;
- application of the guidelines, particularly in low income cases, leaves a parent without the ability to self support;
- application of the guidelines would result in a gross disparity in the standard of living between the two households such that one household is left with an unreasonably low percentage of the combined available income;
- application of the guidelines may adversely impact reunification of a parent and child where the child has been temporarily removed from the household in accordance with G.L. c. 119; and
- absent deviation, application of the guidelines would lead to an order that is unjust, inappropriate or not in the best interests of the child, considering the Principles of these guidelines.
Whenever application of the guidelines requires a payor to pay a recipient more than 40% of the payor’s available income in Line 3a of the guidelines worksheet for a current child support order, there shall be a rebuttable presumption of a substantial hardship, justifying a deviation from the guidelines.
The Task Force again emphasized here that in certain circumstances setting a child support order at $0 may be appropriate. The Task Force recommended inserting “time” at the end of Section IV. B. 6. to clarify that the expenses listed were related to parenting time with minor children. The Task Force also recommended amending Section IV. B. 7. to clarify that a deviation may be appropriate where child care costs for the children covered by the child support order are extraordinary.
The Task Force recommended adding Section IV. C. to include a rebuttable presumption of a substantial hardship justifying a deviation where the overall current child support order is more than 40% of the payor’s available income in Line 3a of the guidelines worksheet. In setting this percentage, the Task Force considered the range of marginal percentages in Table A of the guidelines, the amounts resulting from the application of the guidelines across the full range of income combinations, and economic estimates of child costs relative to income levels. A threshold of 40% falls between economic estimates of child costs for one child and two children reported by the Betson-Rothbarth, USDA, and MIT Living Wage studies. The Task Force’s recommendation recognized the need for additional protection in certain limited cases where the child support order would exceed this percentage. The guidelines worksheet in Line 7e indicates whether the current child support order is more than 40% of the payor’s available income.
The Task Force refined and clarified the circumstances where deviation may be appropriate. The Task Force reordered this section for clarification purposes only and not to prioritize any one factor over another. The Task Force emphasized that a deviation may be appropriate for a family and encourages the Court to deviate where circumstances require it.
The Task Force clarified in the first phrase of Section IV. B. that it is permissible to deviate to an amount below the presumptive guidelines amount. Because the deviation circumstances affect an ongoing child support award, rather than a one-time or occasional allocation, the Task Force emphasized that certain circumstances must be ongoing and with financial consequences for them to be considered appropriate for a deviation. In Section IV. B. 8., the Task Force added “substantially” to emphasize as it did it Section II. D. that a parenting plan that is in the best interest of the child is the first step in determining a child support order. The inclusion of “substantially” provides a parameter with the goal of reducing acrimony and litigation between parents regarding the interaction of the parenting plan and the amount of the child support order.
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