The August 2013 Child Support Guidelines of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts introduced a new confusion into the already confusing calculation of child support.
In an attempt to balance the “financial responsibilities” resulting from differences in parenting time and income discrepancies, The Task Force Report from 2013, the creators of the 2013 Guidelines, set forth four parenting models, each paired with a different formula for the calculation of support.
The children have a primary residence with one parent, with whom they spend approximately two-thirds (2/3rds) of their time. In addition they spend approximately one-third (1/3rd) of their time with their other parent. This model is considered the standard, perhaps most common, division of parenting time and formula for the calculation of child support, payable by the “1/3rd” parent to the “2/3rds” parent.
The children have two primary residences, spending equally or approximately equal time with each parent. Child support shall be calculated twice, each time with an alternating parent paying support to the other. As such, each support calculation represents what each parent would have had to pay to the other if he/she was the residential parent with 2/3rds of parenting time. The support number represents the difference between these two calculations, as payable from the higher income parent to the lower income parent.
The children spend less than 2/3rds of the time but more than 50% of the time with one parent and therefore more than 1/3rd of the time but less than 50% of the time with the other parent. In this paradigm, child support is based on the average of Model One and Model Two. The actual amount of the difference in parenting time and, by presumption, assumed financial responsibility, is not stated or explained by the Task Force. Is Model Three, a 40%/60% division of time spent by each parent with the children, or is it some other proportionate division of time? And, also, what about each parent’s financial responsibilities? How are they measured and, of course, calculated?
This Model is perhaps the most elusive of all, for there is no formulaic calculation available. In Model Four, the directive of The Task Force simply indicates that since the residential parent has more than 2/3rds of parenting time, judicial discretion may be applied to increase the amount of the Support Order over and above that provided by Model One. “ May be increased “ is the operative line.
Are you confused yet? You should be, for The Task Force has not provided us with any precise or nearly precise measure for the calculation of parenting time or for the consideration of financial responsibilities assumed by each parent.
Questions abound. Consider the following:
Do we measure parenting time by so-called “pillow time,” which refers to the overnight time the children spend with each parent? Therefore if a child sleeps over one parent’s house but is with the other parent during the daytime, which measure of time is greater?
What if the child is not in school during the day? Does daytime at home trump time measured for a child in daycare or school? What about the parent who covers school snow days and children’s sick days? How does parenting time get credited for holidays and vacations?
How is parenting time in general measured? Do we count hours? Or maybe we should even count minutes?
Yet, remember that The Task Force did not just stipulate that parents should be calculating “parenting time;” It also referred to “financial responsibility.” When considering financial responsibility, what counts as being child-related? Now we need to ask some other questions.
Consider these specific situations that will have to be addressed to fairly assign custody, child support and parenting time allowances:
What if one parent has a larger mortgage or rent liability than does the other? Do we consider the housing choices of parents? Or, do we focus only on housing costs that are mutually agreed upon? Or, on the other hand, are housing costs not part of the consideration of financial responsibilities?
What if the parents share responsibility for out-of-pocket child-related expenses, such as childcare, noninsured medical and dental expenses, camp, and the like? Does that mean that the parents have in effect neutralized the difference or at least one of the differences in each one’s assumption of financial responsibility for the children’s support?
What if one parent has more lavish tastes or is simply more extravagant in moneys spent on behalf of the children? Should we then discount their costs or give them extra credit?
Any attempt to provide accurate, mathematically sound formulas for tabulating “real” parenting time and “real” liability for children’s expenses is of course simply an approximation.
Hopefully parents will agree not to engage in these often fruitless and potentially combative debates. Parents need to structure their own terms for allocating parenting time between them. Hopefully they will focus on the needs and interests of their children and take into consideration each parent’s limitations as imposed by other demands on their time. Balancing parental availability with the children’s schedule and needs is a crucial undertaking, well worth the effort of both parents and always for the benefit of the children.
With respect to assigning financial responsibility to be assumed by each parent, a similar mutually -determined undertaking is called for.
Parents who work together to calculate child-related expenses and agree on how to fund these costs, have performed a service that can only benefit their children and alleviate potential conflicts between them.
Decisions may result in the allocation of additional support, support over and above that called for by the Guidelines. Or perhaps parents agree to assign liability to eachother for different costs or to share expenses equally or proportionally.
Parents who agree that they are, in effect, partners for the long haul, will also agree to devise a system and a formula that eliminates present and future conflict.
Mediation offers a process for designing parenting schedules that may change over time as needs and circumstances shift. In addition, mediation offers a forum for analyzing child-related costs, for agreeing on parental priorities, and for focusing on a shared view of the children’s best interests.
For over three decades, at the Centre for Mediation and Dispute Resolution, we have helped parents put aside custodial differences to structure a parenting and support plan that provides for a future of working together in the best interests of their children.