Effective August 1, 2013, courts will implement the New 2013 Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines. Every four years, an appointed task force re-assesses the rules and formula that govern the calculation of child support in Massachusetts and makes adjustments. While it will take some time to fully assess their impact, here are some of the key changes:

– Most importantly, it appears child support awards will generally be lower. There was a discussion of the previous child support calculation producing payment amounts that were disproportionately high, making it difficult for the payors to meet their obligations.

For example, I ran a sample calculation under both the old and the new guidelines. The gross incomes used were: the payor grosses $500/week and the recipient grosses $250/week. Under the old guidelines, the child support payment was $125/week. However, under the new guidelines, the payment is now $110/week, which is $780 less per year.

– Income from means-tested benefits such as SSI, TAFDC, and SNAP are excluded for both parties from the calculation of their support obligations.

– Availability of employment at the attributed income level must be considered in attribution of income cases. Therefore, if a party asks the court to attribute income to the other party because the other party is either intentionally unemployed or underemployed, the requesting party must prove there’s work available at the higher income level.

– There’s a new formula for calculating support where parenting time and expenditures are less than equal (50/50), but more than the assumed standard split of two thirds/one third. This is key because many parents that have their children a considerable amount of time but don’t have “split custody” are paying a lot. This is intended to address that issue.

– The court has more guidance on cases involving children over 18. The court may consider living arrangements and post-secondary education. College contributions may be ordered, but must be considered in setting the weekly support order – so the parent is not obligated to contribute to college and pay the full child support amount.
The standard for modification is generally whether there is an inconsistency between the new child support guidelines calculation and the old one, or a change in availability or cost of health insurance.

– Circumstances justifying a deviation from the guidelines amount are expanded to include extraordinary health insurance expenses, extraordinary childcare costs, and less than one-third parenting time. The last factor – less than one-third parenting time – is a key addition. If the non-custodial parent is barely seeing the child, the child support amount could be higher.

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