In Massachusetts, new child support guidelines went into effect on October 4, 2021. Click here to tune in as our attorney team discusses some of the biggest and more interesting changes to the 2021 Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines. Or, read the abbreviated transcript of our video below.
Every state has child support guidelines, which are essentially the law and the corresponding formula to determine child support. Every four years, a task force is formed to assess and update the guidelines. And, in Massachusetts, this has just occurred with new guidelines having gone into effect on October 4, 2021.
Today, a few members of our Turco Legal attorney staff discuss some of the most significant and interesting changes to the [Massachusetts Child Support] Guidelines.
Andrea, get us started with compensation types, how alimony correlates, and lower and higher-income earners.
The court may now include stock options and other incentive pay as income when calculating child support.
More and more often, folks are either being compensated in a different way or actually requesting [to be] compensated in a different way…In prior versions of the Guidelines, [they] may have been able to keep that income out of the [child support] calculation. So we’re talking about things like stock options and other incentive pay. So that’s now listed specifically as something that [the court can include when calculating child support]. [That’s] pretty important.
The court may also include alimony as income when calculating child support.
[The Child Support Task Force] also looked at…whether alimony is included in calculating [child support]…[T]he court is able to look more carefully at…potentially running alimony before running child support. So, including the alimony payments in the child support recipient’s income and deducting it from the payor’s income. And [the Task Force] suggests that perhaps we run [child support calculations] some different ways so that we can actually look at each case on a case-by-case basis to say, “How are we allocating all of the money that’s available to this family?”
So that typically happens when there is a single payor–so somebody who would have to pay child support and alimony. And [it] applies less so and differently if one person is paying alimony and the other person is paying child support…At least there’s more language in there that we can look to [in order] to help us decide what’s fair in each particular case.
The presumptive minimum child support order amount is now lower; between $12 to $20 per week.
Another thing that the Guidelines have changed is that there were circumstances where really low-income folks were paying amounts that didn’t really leave them with subsistence levels of income to support themselves. So they’ve added a few [income] categories…[I]f you’re earning less than $249 a week…the minimums for [the presumptive] child support [orders] are a little bit lower. And then there’s a calculation for…some higher amounts.
[Under the 2018 Child Support Guidelines, the presumptive minimum child support order was $25 per week. Now, the new presumptive minimum child support order for payors earning a gross income of up to $210 per week is $12 per week. For payors earning between $211 and $249 per week in gross income, the new presumptive minimum for a child support order calculates to between $12 to $20 per week.]
The Guidelines now calculate up to a maximum combined available annual gross income amount of $400,000.
They also raised the maximum [combined available annual gross income of the parties amount]. In the prior version of the Guidelines, we only looked at [the] combined income of the two parents [up to] $250,000…[T]hey raised that to $400,000, in part because that number hasn’t changed for twelve years. So looking at what it costs to raise children in Massachusetts, and what the incomes are for folks in Massachusetts versus some other places in the country, it seemed to make sense to raise that.
So what that does mean is we look at child support on the first $400,000 of [the] combined income of the parents…[W]hatever that number is, is sort of the presumed minimum child support order. We can then also look at the [combined gross income] amounts over $400,000 [to determine the amount by which the presumed minimum child support order should increase]…[The Task Force also clarified that] it wouldn’t be appropriate just to rerun the child support guidelines [again] on the amounts over $400,000…[For parties with a combined annual gross income over $400,000, the amount of child support over the maximum threshold] really should be [capped] at the maximum percentage…which is about 10%…
I don’t know if any of you were able to sit in on the Mass Bar Association’s family law program the other day. But…the first section of the day was talking about the Child Support Guidelines and amounts above the 400,000 figure…
We’ve kind of grappled with [the] percentage [to] use above the [maximum] threshold amount for [child] support. And it’s…been a subject of negotiation over the years in…our cases. But the way they suggested doing it in the…program the other day was taking that 10% figure, but then dividing that further based on the percentage of income. So, if…one party’s income was 40% and the other party’s income was 60%…–the payor was 60% of the income, for instance–instead of using 10%, you would use 6%. Is that, did anybody else catch that?
I did. Yes, I actually attended that, too, Damian, and it was hugely instructive. In fact, obviously, child support is one of the most contested areas and one of the main reasons people find themselves returning to court. And they may not realize that they’re paying their attorneys more to argue about vague areas of the law, such as [what percentage to use on income above the maximum threshold]. You know, some attorneys would run it one way, some attorneys would run in another…But I think it’s going to take us a little time working with the worksheet and…the different tables with the percentages to actually see how it plays out.
The Guidelines have increased the child support adjustment factor for families with more than one child.
And now, Maureen, how about the child multiplier? How has that changed?
The Task Force retained a separate independent group–economic group–that researched economic data and policy considerations as far as what it costs to actually raise children. And, what it costs to raise one child versus two [children] versus three children.
The prior incremental increases had been 1.25, 1.38, 1.45, and 1.48 for two children, three children, four children, and five children, respectively. The independent group–I think it was the Brattle Group–came back and reported that the actual cost [to raise more than one child] is more than that.
So the Task Force recommended, and these Guidelines adopted, an increase for more than one child. So that has now been increased to 1.4 for two children…1.68 for three children, 1.85 for four children, and 1.94 for five children.
So, in practical [terms], what that means is that if you get $100 if you have one child, if you have two children, you’ll receive $140. So the Guidelines run that automatically. And then…[the child support worksheet] continues to incorporate [an adjustment for] children over 18 and children under 18.
But [the adjustment factor] did increase…for raising [more than one child]. I think it’s going to reflect the actual cost of what people are spending. So I think it was a good change and well-received by the bar.
Thanks, Maureen. Now, Jess, tell us how childcare costs and health care coverage have changed under the new Guidelines.
Two big changes in the 2021 Child Support Guidelines in terms of childcare costs and health care coverage. Under the old Guidelines, there’s a 15% cap on the cost-sharing for both childcare costs and health care coverage. So what was happening was [that] a lot of parents were actually missing out on the credit that they should have been receiving for actual payments made.
Under the new Guidelines, that 15% cap is eliminated. But, how child care costs and health care coverage are treated are a little bit different under the new Guidelines.
Parents will now proportionally share child care costs paid up to $355 per child per week.
So, we’re going to start with the child care costs. Under the old Guidelines, the parent who paid the child care costs would simply deduct the amount that they paid from their gross income. Under the new Guidelines, the Task Force recognized that parents really should be sharing in these costs in proportion to their respective incomes up to an amount of $355 per child per week.
Now, this doesn’t mean that parents have to pay $355 per week for child care. It’s simply a cap. So how that plays out in real life is, basically if both parents are earning the same amount…–they’re 50/50 contributors–they would each pay 50% of the child care costs. In a scenario where one parent is earning 20% of the combined total income and the other parent is earning 80%, again, they’d be paying 20% of child care and 80% of child care [respectively].
So, the next question that would come up is, “Well what happens if you have more than one child?”…[T]he Guidelines simply [make] a calculation based on the number of children times that $355 per week.
For health care coverage, parents will now deduct certain health care costs paid.
The second issue, as I mentioned, is in terms of health care coverage. Again, the new Guidelines eliminated that 15% cap. But the difference here is that the new Guidelines do not include a cost-sharing provision like the child care cost provision does. In this area, it simply allows the parent that’s paying for the health care coverage to deduct the amount that they are paying from their gross income.
The 2021 Child Support Guidelines clarify that the court will consider the available resources of each parent individually when deciding whether to order child support for children ages 18-23.
Thanks, Jess. Now in Massachusetts, child support can go until the children reach age 23. And, the parents may be ordered to contribute to their college or other post-secondary education costs.
So, Kristin, fill us in on these issues under the updated Guidelines.
So the court has the discretion to either order or decline to order child support for children over the age of 18. They almost always order it, I find. And if they are going to order it for children over 18, it’s factored into the Guidelines.
One of the changes they recommended is, in the 2018 Guidelines, the court was to consider the available resources of the parents. [The Guidelines now] changed that to say the court will consider the available resources to each parent. So, you’re considering the resources to each parent individually instead of collectively. So, they just wanted to emphasize that…they’re evaluating each parent’s resources individually.
The 2021 Guidelines clarify that the court will consider the available resources of each parent individually when deciding whether to order a parent to contribute to post-secondary educational expenses.
The other change was with respect to contribution to post-secondary education expenses–so college expenses. Similar to the changes to the language for child support for children between ages 18 and 23 in terms of contributions to post-secondary education, they wanted to change the language to consider the available resources of each parent–again instead of the parents collectively.
[The Task Force] felt that it was important to emphasize that the court should consider whether one person saved [for post-secondary education expenses] and the other person didn’t. So, you shouldn’t penalize the parent who has been saving all these years and has this income available because they set it aside…[The Task Force] wanted to make it clear that the court can consider both parents individually when making this order.
[The Guidelines also] kept the cap for determining the parental share of post-secondary educational expenses. Essentially, the cap is 50% of the cost of an undergraduate in-state college education at UMass Amherst…They kept that the same…
The 2021 Guidelines made some changes regarding deviation from the presumptive child support order.
Thanks, Kristin. Now the Guidelines give us a presumptive figure of child support. But the judge may deviate from that figure when appropriate.
Maureen, fill us in on how deviation works under the 2021 Guidelines.
As far as deviation, section four has always addressed the deviation from the child support guidelines. The Guidelines are the presumptive amount that the court is to order. But there are deviation factors, as we’ve all been talking about today.
The Task Force again emphasized that there are certain circumstances where setting a child support order at even $0 may be appropriate…[T]here are several factors listed, but it specifically addressed and clarified that a parent who has extraordinary travel or other expenses relating to parenting time [may need a deviation]. So this would be the parent who has to travel from out of state for parenting time. That may be a deviation factor. Another thing that is addressed is a parent who has extraordinary child care costs for the children covered…by the order. That may be for a special needs child or a child who’s very ill, something like that. So this is something that is not typical. [It] would be extraordinary.
Another thing, which is new–and there’s a special box…that’s automatically checked when the Guidelines compute that this is triggered–is whenever application of the Guidelines requires the payor to pay the recipient more than 40% of the [payor’s] available income. There’s a little box that gets sort of checked [when this is the case]. And it’s what they call a “rebuttable presumption” that it’s a substantial hardship, which would justify a deviation from the Guidelines.
And that doesn’t necessarily mean that the payor’s child support payment would go all the way to zero. But if the payor is paying above 40% of his or her available income, that would be a rebuttable presumption that it’s a substantial hardship to him or her and that that amount should go down.
Thanks, Maureen, and thanks, team.
There were several other changes under the Guidelines this time around…[I]f you want to understand them all, read them. Read the Guidelines and read the comments. They do a great job of explaining what’s changed and why.
The Guidelines and comments are found on our website and on mass.gov.
Otherwise, we’ll see you next time.
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