Frequently Asked Questions About Child Support in Massachusetts

What is child support?

Simply put, child support is the payment by one parent to the other which relates to the care, custody, and maintenance of the child or children involved.

What is the relevant Massachusetts law regarding child support?

Massachusetts General Laws chapter 208, section 28 provides the governing law on child support payments. The law reads: “Upon a judgment for divorce, the court may make such judgment as it considers expedient relative to the care, custody and maintenance of the minor children of the parties and may determine with which of the parents the children or any of them shall remain or may award their custody to some third person if it seems expedient or for the benefit of the children.”

The same statute also notes that the Probate and Family Court will order child support payments based on the child support guidelines effective in Massachusetts. “In determining the amount of the child support obligation or in approving the agreement of the parties, the court shall apply the child support guidelines promulgated by the chief justice of the trial court, and there shall be a rebuttable presumption that the amount of the order which would result from the application of the guidelines is the appropriate amount of child support to be ordered.”

What are the child support guidelines, and how do they work?

The Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines set forth the amount of child support to be paid by one parent to the other. The guidelines apply in the case of both married and unmarried parents. They apply to both temporary and final orders of child support, and they also apply in the case of support modifications. Typically, if one parent has primary physical custody of the child(ren), then the non-custodial parent will be responsible for payment of child support, even if both parents have legal custody.

Income, for purposes of the guidelines, is defined to include salary, wages, commissions and bonuses, pensions, rental income, self-employment and business income, and many other categories. Should the Court find that the party is unemployed or underemployed, it may also choose to attribute income to that party. Under the guidelines, the Court may take into consideration other factors, such as parenting time, minimum and maximum levels of support, and the relationship of support payments to other support obligations, such as alimony, among other factors.

The guidelines may be viewed online at  http://www.mass.gov/dor/docs/cse/guidelines/2013-child-support-guidelines.pdf.

What tools are used for calculating child support?

The judge will use the child support guidelines worksheet to determine the amount of support to be ordered. Both parties’ income will be factored into the judge’s analysis. The worksheet is available online at http://www.mass.gov/courts/docs/forms/probate-and-family/cjd304-worksheet-child-support-guidelines.pdf.

Typically, the parent with physical custody will be responsible for day care expenses, but the amount of those expenses will be deducted from that parent’s income in calculating child support. As for health insurance expenses, each party may deduct from his or her income the amount paid for any individual or family plans.

May the parties agree to a specific child support amount?

The parties may have in place an agreement regarding child support, but only if that agreement is approved by the Court after it is found by the Court to be fair and reasonable.

As noted by the statute above, the Court will generally presume that the amount resulting from the application of the guidelines is the appropriate amount of child support. The parties may rebut this presumption, and the Court may vary the amount under the guidelines if it issues a written finding that enforcing the guidelines would be unjust.

In addition to child support payments, are any other payments for child-related expenses sometimes ordered by the Court?

Yes. For instance, the Court may order payment of educational expenses, extra-curricular activities and camps, medical and dental expenses for the child, among other categories related to the care and custody of the child. Those expenses may be ordered to be paid by one or both parents.

Additionally, the Court in its child support order may determine which parent is entitled to claim tax exemptions for the child or children.

Under what circumstances might child support payments be modified?

Modification of child support payments may occur based on a material change in circumstances, such as the loss of a job or income. The guidelines will apply in the case of a modification.

How are child support payments enforced in Massachusetts?

The Massachusetts Department of Revenue can help parties enforce the payment of child support obligations. A party may seek services by filling out an Application and Agreement available on the Department of Revenue’s website.

In addition, a party may bring an action for contempt against another party who has not met his or her support obligations. Actions for contempt may be civil or criminal. Damages for breach of a child support agreement may also be available.

Where can I find more information?

The Massachusetts Probate and Family Court’s webpage on child support can be found at http://www.mass.gov/courts/selfhelp/family/child-support.html.

The Department of Revenue’s webpage on child support enforcement can be found at http://www.mass.gov/dor/child-support.

If you have any questions about child support, you may also schedule a free consultation with our office. Call 978-225-9030 during regular business hours or complete a contact form here, and we will get back to you at our earliest opportunity.