In four-year intervals the Child Support Guidelines of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts are subject to review and, where deemed appropriate, revision. As such, the August 2013 Guidelines of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts shall be superseded by the “new” Guidelines effective September 15, 2017. These Guidelines shall apply to all parents, married or unmarried, and to all child support orders, temporary or “final” that are submitted to the court. For couples who apply for a modification or for individuals filing for modification there shall be a rebuttable presumption that child support calculated under the revised Guidelines shall determine the amount of child support. Thus these Guidelines shall take priority over all prior orders or petitions for change unless there is a persuasive argument to deviate from the formula or if the parties are applying for a modification of support based on a still applicable deviation or are presenting a rationale for deviation that is acceptable to the court.
For those with existing orders, it is important to note the distinctions between former Guidelines and the revised formula.
When comparing the 2017 Guidelines to its predecessor of 2013, the following changes are noteworthy:
Parenting Time: The 2017Guidelines eliminates the monetary differences between shared custody arrangements that are less than 50%/50% sharing but greater than the “typical” one-third/two-thirds division of parenting time. The distinction imposed by arrangements in which parents shared custody in a ratio of, say, 55%/45% or 60%/40% time divisions have effectively been removed. Additional imposition of support for parents whose time with their children falls significantly below the 1/3rd/2/3rd division remains in the Guidelines as a prerogative of the judge to adjust support accordingly in order to reflect the additional burden of time and expense accruing to the primary physical custodian.
Health Insurance and Child Care Expenses: In recognition of the limited monetary credit given to the parent who is funding health insurance and/or childcare services, the 2017 formula introduces a proportionate sharing of these expenses after the cost is deducted from the income of the “paying” parent. The two-step adjustment is, however, limited to fifteen percent of the child support order.
Child Support for Children Between the Ages of 18 and 23: Prior Guidelines left the assignment of a child support for children attending post secondary schooling as a form judicial discretion— as such the judge could order or not order the continuation of support. However it was not uncommon for support to continue for children attending college. The 2017 Guidelines seeks to insert more clarity into decision making pertaining to older children, by reducing the Guideline support calculation by 25 percent. Additional judicial discretion shall still apply. In particular judges and divorcing couples may adjust support based on additional factors relating to parental contributions to the cost of the child’s schooling, consideration of the child’s living arrangements, and the resources of the parents.
Education Contribution to Post-Secondary: Here the 2017 Guidelines take a stab at defining parental obligation for funding children’s postsecondary education. No parent, they state, shall be ordered to pay more than 50 percent of the cost of an undergraduate, in- state resident’s cost for the University of Massachusetts at Amherst in each year of a child’s enrollment, unless the judge determines that a parent has the ability to pay more. Therefore the cost of University of Massachusetts at Amherst is being used as an index to define and limit parental contributions, regardless of the school actually attended by the child.
It is worth noting that in 2017, as in prior years, parental decision making, as it pertains to the amount of support paid from one parent to the other or directly to third parties or institutions for the benefit of the child, can and often does play a significant role in shaping support orders. Indeed, to go one step further, we suggest that mediation is the vehicle to approach the subject of family support—be it child support or alimony. Mediation not only offers divorcing couples a forum designed to facilitate creative decision making, but also provides an opportunity for parents to analyze children’s and parents’ needs and resources in a safe environment where reason and facts play significant roles.
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