Today, August, 1, 2013, Massachusetts rolled out new Child Support Guidelines, affecting any parent who pays or receives child support. The new Guidelines can be viewed at http://www.mass.gov/courts/childsupport/2013-child-support-guidelines.pdf. I also find it useful to review the red lined version (http://www.mass.gov/courts/childsupport/2012-task-force-recommendations-redlined-against-2009-child-support-guidelines.pdf) so that you can clearly see the differences between the new and old guidelines.
The new Guidelines have set forth a new formula for determining child support that could change most child support orders that are already in place. In general, the new Guidelines call for a slight reduction in support across the board (scaling closer to the 2009 figures for each additional child). The new calculator is available at http://www.mass.gov/courts/childsupport/cjd304-worksheet-child-support-guidelines.pdf.
Below is a high level overview of the most noteworthy changes. As always, you should seek advice of a qualified Family Law attorney to help you determine how the law affects you in your specific situation.
1) New child support formula: The new formula still only looks at the first $250,000 of combined income, however the formula now utilizes a new Child Support Obligation Schedule (Table A – found at the bottom of the worksheet). In general, the percentages used to determine a child support obligation are now lower. The 2009 calculator used percent ranges from 26% – 15% but the new calculator uses a range of 22% – 11%. This results in an overall reduction in support across the board.
Despite the overall reduction, support does scale back up based on the number of children. Under the new Guidelines, there is a larger adjustment for each child after the first.
2) Income above $250,000: The new Guidelines now include a tool to review income above $250,000. It is now clear that income above $250,000 should be considered, however, it remains unclear how exactly to calculate the additional support amount above the standard calculation when income is above $250,000. It is possible that the legislature intentionally left this as a grey area so that each situation was uniquely considered.
3) Income for used in calculation of child support: Income from SSI, TAFDC, and SNAP should be excluded from any child support calculation. Also, income earned from a second job or overtime, may either be considered or disregarded (at each judge’s discretion) when determining child support.
4) New formula based on percentage of time (between 1/3 – 1/2): The new child support formula is presumptively based on the payor having approximately 1/3 of the parenting time. There is also a new approach when a parent has between 1/3 and 1/2 of the parenting time, and a third approach when the parent has approximately ½ of the parenting time. Previously there were only two calculations: one for cases of primary custody and a second (the “dual calculation”) when the parties had “shared custody” (which could range from 1/3 – 1/2).
5) Potential reduction in support when the child is between the ages of 18 – 23: The court will now consider the child’s living arrangements and post-secondary education. A contribution to post-secondary education may be ordered and that order would be considered in determining the support amount during that period.
6) Deviation from a standard child support order: Judges may now consider deviating from the standard calculation when the payor parent has less than 1/3 parenting time and also when there are extra-ordinary health insurance expenses or child care costs that are disproportionate to income.
7) Ability to modify a previous child support order: The new Guidelines are a sufficient change in circumstance to warrant a modification of a previously ordered child support obligation (in cases where the new Guidelines result in a different support amount from the current order).
These are significant changes to the methods used by the court for the last 3 years to determine child support. The changes should in theory affect a majority of people currently paying or receiving child support. At this point it is not clear how judges will rule on deviation cases or in other areas of the new Guidelines that are within their sound discretion. Just looking at the calculator itself, there will be a lot of changes to come.
As always, make sure you discuss these issues with an attorney who is experienced with the new Guidelines so that you understand how the changes affect your own situation.