Is the retroactive modification of child support payments a possibility in Massachusetts?

Say, for example, that a payor party’s income increases. The receiving party does not file for modification right away–perhaps because she does not know of the increase in income. Once she does file, may the court increase the payments retroactively? Can it go back to the date that the payor party’s income changed?

In an interesting recent case, the Massachusetts Appeals Court held that retroactive modification of child support was valid. Specifically, where the parties agreed in their separation agreement that future modifications of support are retroactive to date of change of income, the court has the jurisdiction to modify retroactively to that date. This is true even when the date predates the filing of the complaint for modification. [1]


In the case, Calabria v. Calabria, the parties divorced in 2010. The husband had to pay $416 semimonthly in child support. In their separation agreement, the parties agreed that in the event of a change in income or employment, they would immediately notify the other party, seek modification, and modification would be retroactive to the change of employment or salary date.

In 2013, the wife filed a complaint for contempt, claiming among other things that the husband failed to notify her of a change in his income. The parties exchanged financial information during that proceeding; the wife realized the husband was consistently making more by 2012 than he did at divorce. She filed a complaint for modification.

The trial judge applied the Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines dating back to the time period of 2011, 2012, and 2013. The judge computed a deficit of $9,264 for the prior years. The husband appealed, claiming that the judge was without authority to make any increase retroactive to a date earlier than the date of the complaint for modification.

The Appeals Court disagreed:

The court specified two circumstances in this case which particularly allowed for this decision. First, the parties had specifically provided for retroactive adjustment of child support in their separation agreement. Second, the adjustment fostered the best interests of the parties’ child and did not derogate from the purposes of the law on modifications of child support.

“Here, we are presented with a modification judgment that gives effect to a predivorce agreement of the parties concerning retroactive adjustment of child support and that results in an increase rather than a decrease in child support during the period preceding the complaint for modification,” the Court explained. “In such circumstances, the objective of [the law] to furnish finality and clarity to orders for child support in order to facilitate prosecution of an enforcement action based on the support order is not impaired by the possibility that the support obligor might assert claimed defenses to payment.” [2]

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1 Calabria v. Calabria, No. 16-P-1397, May 31, 2017 – July 13, 2017.

2 Id., at 5.