Massachusetts implemented new child support guidelines on September 15, 2017. The Task Force worked very hard to address the issues that parties were facing with the 2013 child support guidelines. You can read the 20 page Child Support Guidelines or continue reading for a highlight of the major changes and what this can mean for your establishing or existing child support order as the new guidelines shall be used in all cases establishing and modifying child support orders regardless of whether parents are married or unmarried.
1. Increase in Minimum Child Support Amount
The 2017 Guidelines have raised the minimum child support order from $80 per month, which has been the minimum support order since 2002, to $25.00 per week. The $25.00 per week minimum order applies to weekly income of up to $115.00. Although it may not seem like a large enough difference to warrant the time and cost of a Complaint for Modification; along with the other changes, it may be worth it to at least run the guidelines to see what difference it can make for your family.
2. Cap on Court Ordered College Contribution
The 2013 Guidelines left college educational costs to the discretion of the Judge. In other words, the Court had the discretion to order a parent to contribute on a case-by-case basis. The 2017 Guidelines have created a separate section that specifically deals with college educational expenses and sets forth particular factors for the Court to consider when deciding whether the Court should order a parent to contribute to college. Although contribution is not presumptive, the Court should take the factors into consideration. Moreover, the Court has officially adopted the “UMASS Amherst” formula when it pertains to ordering parents to contribute to their children’s college expenses and costs. As noted, many factors are considered when deciding parental contribution; however, the Task Force has established that there be a cap on parents’ court ordered contribution to college costs. The cap is now set at 50 percent of the undergraduate in-state resident cost of UMASS Amherst. Although this has been the working standard in practice for many years, the Task Force has officially adopted the formula. Moreover, if college education contribution is ordered in addition to child support then the Court shall consider the combined amount of both orders.
3. Credit for Child Care and Health Care Costs
Child and health care costs can be a huge burden for the parent paying for such costs. The 2017 Guidelines now affords a parent a reduction from their gross income for health and child care costs actually paid by that parent. This can make a huge difference for the parent who is paying these costs as their gross income is typically used to calculate the child support order. The adjustment is a two-step calculation. First, a parent who is paying for the health care and child care deducts the out of pocket cost from his or her gross income. Second, the parties share the total costs for both parents in proportion to their income available for support. It is important to note, however, that the combined adjustment for child care and health care costs is capped at 15 percent of the child support order.
4. Goodbye "In-Between" Parenting Time Category
Under the previous guidelines, the Court was allowed to consider an upward deviation for a payor that had less than 1/3rd of parenting time. The 2013 Guidelines also had an averaging calculation for cases where parenting time was between 33-50 percent. Due to the vagueness of this averaging calculation, the courts experienced increased litigation over small amounts of parenting time. The 2017 Guidelines have attempted to eliminate the “in-between” category by establishing that the presumption is that child is with the custodial parent 2/3rd of the time and with the non-custodial parent 1/3rd of the time. This presumption is rebuttable. Where two parents share parenting time equally, the guidelines are calculated twice with both parents as the recipient. The difference in the calculations shall be paid to the parent with the lower support order.
5. New Formula for Children Between 18 and 23
One of the most important changes has been the new formula for children between 18 and 23. It is likely that this change will affect a number of individuals that are paying child support under an existing order. The 2013 Guidelines allowed support to continue after the age of 18 up until the age of 23 if certain factors were present (i.e. full time student, still dependent on primary custodial parent). In most situations, if the child was a full time student, for instance, the support order would continue at the same dollar amount. The 2017 Guidelines allow the payor parent to now receive a 25 percent reduction in child support for children in this age group if emancipation factors do not apply. The Court still has the discretion to deviate from this formula although it is now presumptive. Table B on the Worksheet indicates how the total percentage is reduced when multiple children are involved as only the portion attributable to the adult child should be affected.
Contact our office today if you believe that these recent changes may affect your existing order or if you need assistance with establishing an order!