How To Modify a Child Support Agreement in MA

Things happen in life, and sometimes they affect our finances. What happens when those things affect your ability to pay or need for child support? When there’s a significant change to either party’s financial circumstances, a modification of child support is available to address the issue. In order to be eligible for modification, there must be a “material change in circumstance,” which is the legal standard used by the court. Either one of the child's parents can ask for a modification if those circumstances arise.

What Constitutes a Material Change in Circumstances?

Although the court has some discretion in determining what constitutes a “material” change, there are some reasons which are commonly accepted as bases for a change in the support order. These can include:
  • A significant change (negative or positive) in the income level of either parent
  • A significant change in the medical expenses of either parent
  • A significant change in the living arrangement of the child, thus spending substantially more time with one parent or the other
  • A significant change in the medical expenses for the child
  • A significant change in child-related expenses, such as extra-curricular or child-care expenses
  • A significant change in travel-related expenses for either parent’s visitation with the child
This is not an exclusive list of reasons that may justify a request for a change in the support order, but they are among the most common and compelling and have the potential to bring about the largest level of change in the child support amount.

Income is Always the Most Significant Factor

The single most important factor in a child support analysis is income. If either parent is currently earning a lot less or a lot more money than they were at the time of the prior order, that will almost certainly affect the child support order. However, on the other hand, a small difference in the income of either parent may not be sufficient to change the order.
Another important point on the issue of income is that if either parent is voluntarily unemployed or underemployed, the court may “attribute” income to that parent. For example, if the court finds that the parent can be earning at a higher level and is purposely earning less, the court may issue a child support order using the parent’s potential rather than actual earnings, which will affect the child support calculation.

How to Change the Child Support Order?

In order to actually make a change in the child support order, a parent, usually through an attorney, must file a complaint for modification of child support. Typically, in addition to the complaint, the requesting party usually also files a motion for temporary orders to effectuate the change sooner rather than later. Once the issue is addressed at the temporary order stage, the case may be resolved at that point, or if the issue is still contested, the case will move on to the next stage of pretrial, and if still unresolved, eventually move toward a trial.
If you have any questions about a child support modification, it’s best to consult with an attorney as soon as possible because the court will generally not issue an order retroactive before the date the opposing party was served with a court summons and complaint. So if you wait too long to address the issue, you may be causing yourself substantial financial harm.