On November 5, 2008, the new Child Support Guidelines of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts went public with an effective date of January 1, 2009. These new Guidelines represent a substantive change since the interim Guidelines were first issued in 1987. The flurry of activity beginning in November and continuing through the end of 2008 was a demonstrative response by divorcing individuals and their lawyers to the following key questions:
Will I receive more or less before January 1, 2009? Will I pay more or less before January 1, 2009? Should I push for a pre-2009 court date? Should I delay the court hearing to post-2009?
For some couples, the new law did not herald a major change in the child support figures. For others, it most certainly did. Since the new Guidelines are based on a variety of quite different premises about families and each parent’s responsibility for his/her child(ren)’s support, there is no quick answer to characterize the impact of these new Guidelines on couples, as individual payors or recipients. Each party needs to compute the formula. Each couple needs to consider whether or not their family presents circumstances which warrant a deviation from the formula. The new formula is, after all, suppose to be viewed by each probate judge as a guideline and, by definition, “a statement of policy”, not an immutable absolute.
What, you may ask, in actuality constitutes a new policy? The following are the salient points of change:
You may request a modification of support of orders which are three or more years old without demonstrating a change in circumstances.
Income definitions include clarification of income from:
Secondary jobs and overtime
Disability and social security income
Attribution of income may now extend to parents of children under six.
Stated exclusion of income from a non-parent guardian
Additional Income Variables:
Family income is considered up to and including $250,000.00/year
Support may be apportioned between child support and alimony provided the after-tax support is not less than the Guidelines sum.
Alimony may be awarded, over and above child support.
Custody and visitation has been relabeled as “parenting time”. The formula presumes two-thirds time with the residential parent and one-third time with the other parent.
Child care costs, for employment, may be deducted from the income of the parent or parents funding the expense.
Age of Children:
There is no support increase related to the age of a child, as in prior Guidelines.
Each parent may deduct health insurance costs for individual policy or family policy covered by him/her from his/her income provided the cost of a person or persons not covered by the support order does not “unreasonably” reduce the amount of child support.
Cost for dental and vision insurance for a policy covering the children of the order is deductible from income.
Number of Children:
Calculation includes percentage increases for up to five children. Increased percentage for more than five children is discretionary but likely.
Other Child-Related Expenses:
Recognition that major expenses (e.g., camp, extracurricular activities) are not automatically the responsibility of one parent; the Guidelines recognize that such expenses may be apportioned between parents or attributed to one parent.
At the Centre for Mediation & Dispute Resolution (CMDR), we are acutely aware of the major impact that a new child support policy has on our former, present, and future clients. Clearly the least complicated path will be undertaken by divorcing couples in the post-2008 era; for these couples, the old Guidelines do not even serve as a comparison basis. Alternatively, for couples currently mediating their agreement, the 2009 Guidelines introduce a new element, for some a cause for applause and for others a source of disappointment.
Then, too, there are former clients divorced for three or more years who may wish to apply for a modification.
Change invariably produces an impact which some may lament and others may herald. We, at CMDR, are, as always, prepared to help you smooth over the wrinkles and reach agreement based on reason and, hopefully, without rancor or ill will.