Part 1: What’s changed and why does it matter?
Massachusetts revises its Child Support Guidelines approximately every four years. New guidelines have been enacted which became effective on October 4, 2021.
These Child Support Guidelines are presumptive. There’s a rebuttable presumption that the guidelines apply when establishing or modifying child support. A court has to make specific findings if deviating from these Child Support Guidelines.
So what’s new and different? Some key changes include:
- Income threshold: Guidelines are now applicable for joint household incomes up to $400,000, and there is guidance for incomes over $400,000. The previous threshold was $250,000.
- Amounts for more than one child: The multipliers have increased if there is more than one child. For two children it is 1.4 (previously 1.25), 1.68 for three children (previously 1.38), 1.85 for four children (previously 1.45) and 1.94 for five children (previously 1.48). There is still a downward adjustment for a child over 18.
- Proportional cost sharing of child care: Child care is now adjusted between the parties on the Child Support Guidelines worksheet to be proportional to their available income as defined in the Child Support Guidelines, up to the first $355 per week of child care per child. As a result, there is cost sharing of child care under the new guidelines that may result in an increase or decrease in the overall child support as compared with the old guidelines. The old guidelines were also proportional, but were previously capped at 15% of the child support order.
- Health insurance: Health insurance is now treated as a deduction from available income. In the past, it was treated more like child care with capped cost sharing.
- Relationship of child support and alimony: The 2021 guidelines acknowledge that even in cases where the Child Support Guidelines are applicable because they fall within the presumptive range of joint household incomes up to $400,000, a support order can be apportioned such that there is concurrent child support and alimony. The 2021 Child Support Guidelines also recognize that to calculate support in these circumstances, child support can be calculated first and then alimony or vice versa. Unallocated support may also be appropriate in some circumstances.
- Minimum support amount: The minimum support amount has been changed. In addition, if the Child Support Guidelines require a party to pay more than 40% of their available income, there is a rebuttable presumption of substantial hardship that can form the basis for a request to deviate from the Child Support Guidelines.
- Definitions of income: Updates were made concerning definitions of income, particularly social security benefits of various kinds, income derived from stock options and similar employee benefits.
These highlights are just some of the many changes in the 2021 Child Support Guidelines. These guidelines have nuances that can affect outcome, so it’s important to understand how they apply to your case – whether you’re trying to establish a child support order or you’re considering seeking to modify an existing court order.
A child support order may be modified if there is a substantial change of circumstances, but also if there is an inconsistency between the amount of the existing order and the amount that would result from the application of the guidelines.
Establishing or modifying a child support order does not have to mean a contested court case. In the comments to the Child Support Guidelines, there was one interesting statement: “The Task Force recommended eliminating the word “litigant” from the Preamble and instead inserting “parties”, recognizing that not all cases involve litigation.”
When thinking about what process to use to address child support, a party should consider the time and expense that may be saved and better spent on your child or children. The Task Force’s specific comment is an important recognition in the Child Support Guidelines that out of court processes, such as the use of Settlement Counsel, Collaborative Law or Mediation – where parties can resolve child support disputes out of court and by agreement – are viable and recognized methods of resolving parties’ differences regarding child support.
Also, Part 2 of our child support guidelines series is coming soon: Next we’ll talk more about the relationship of child support and alimony under these new guidelines.