As we discussed in a previous post, the 2017 Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines, effective September 15, 2017, made significant changes from the 2013 Guidelines in how parenting time affects a child support order, how health/vision/dental insurance is accounted for in setting a child support order, how child support is calculated for a child between the ages of eighteen and twenty-three, and how a court addresses the issue of contribution towards college.

In this post, we examine some of the other changes and clarifications. For many individuals, these will have a significant impact on their child support orders in the future.

Minimum level of child support:

The 2017 Guidelines, for the first time since 2002, increased the minimum child support order from $18.46 to $25 per week. The Task Force cited economic data and the increase in the cost of living in Massachusetts since that time.

Interaction between alimony and child support:

The 2017 Guidelines explain that the Alimony Reform Act of 2012 “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.” G.L. c. 208, § 53(c)(2). In the commentary, the Task Force points out that “the converse is not stated in the statute.” In other words, the Alimony Reform Act of 2012 prohibits income that has already been used to calculate child support to then be used in calculating alimony, but does not prohibit alimony from being calculated first and then calculating child support.

The commentary did not provide direction, except to say there were no appellate cases on point for this specific issue; while they wished they could give more instruction, they were not recommending any changes.

The 2017 Guidelines did maintain language from the 2013 Guidelines that encouraged, when appropriate, parents to take advantage of the tax implications of alimony and child support and to make a combined order when appropriate.

Attribution of income:

The 2017 Guidelines changed some of the factors in attributing income for individuals capable of earning more than currently earning. It is possible to assign a hypothetical amount of income for the purpose of calculating child support. The 2013 Guidelines language was that a “Court shall consider all relevant factors including without limitation the education, training, health, past employment history of the party, and the availability of employment at the attributed income level.”

The 2017 Guidelines changed this so that a “Court shall … 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.”

The considerations specific to the children in attributing income to a parent remain unchanged from 2013 to 2017. (These are “the age, number, needs and care of the children covered by this order”).

Self-employment and other business income:

The 2017 Guidelines clarified some of the issues with self-employed individuals and how to handle their income. They might be able to write it off for tax purposes; further in the commentary are a number of appellate cases on the issue of self-employment and rental income.

Structure of guidelines:

The structure of writing of the Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines does not change any factor for consideration. However, in the 2017 Guidelines, the Task Force took the opportunity to include commentary in the Guidelines themselves. The commentary highlights changes from the previous guidelines, often explaining the rationale for their changes. This commentary will provide judges, attorneys, and parents with more guidance in coming to a child support order. This author applauds the Task Force for the transparency of explaining why it made certain changes.

Are you looking for an experienced Newburyport or Andover divorce lawyer or family law attorney? If you have questions or need help with child support issues, you may schedule a free consultation with our team of experienced Massachusetts family law attorneys. Call our offices at any time!