Bad enough that the separated and divorced public is still struggling to understand the implications of the new Alimony Act, when along comes new Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines effective August 1, 2013.
Announced late June of 2013, the new Guidelines provide one month for those involved in divorce negotiations to deal with the quite significant formulaic changes imposed by the new Guidelines. Then, too, in all likelihood, there will be another major rush to court, without any phasing in period, for modifications of existing orders.
To consider the impact of the new Guidelines, the following changes need to be understood:
AMOUNT OF SUPPORT PAYMENTS
In general, child support is reduced by the new formula, particularly when calculated for one-child families.
Income for benefits such as SSI are excluded in the calculation of support.
Income may be attributed to the unemployed or underemployed payors or recipients after consideration of the availability of employment.
Income from second jobs and/or overtime may be considered some of the time, all of the time, or none of the time- in short an item to be negotiated or imposed by the court regardless of whether or not there is a historical pattern of such employment.
Increased percentages are applicable for families with more than one child. Such increases may, to an extent, mitigate the support reduction imposed by the formula. The percentages are as follows:
Two children multiplier increased from 1.20% to 1.25%
Three children multiplier increased from 1.27% to 1.38%
Four children multiplier increased from 1.32% to 1.45%
Five children multiplier increased from 1.35% to 1.48%
INDIVIDUAL AND SHARED PARENTING
The 2009 and the 2013 Guideline formulas assume division of parenting such that the children are presumed to be with the primary or residential parent two-thirds of the time and with the other parent one-third of the time.
The 2009 and the 2013 formulas apply the same calculation variables to the equation of shared parenting in which the parents spend equal time with the children.
Yet the 2013 formula goes a step beyond introducing two new categorizations:
For the parent who is with the children less than one-third of the time, the court purports to consider an increase in support paid to the residential parent. How exactly the increase will be calculated and how great a differential actually merits additional support are unknown factors as is also how, in fact, parenting time is to be calculated.
The court also imposes a new formula for parents with shared custody which is less than a fifty/fifty percent division of parenting time by averaging the “standard” formula with the “shared” formula. Here, indeed, lies a pathway flooded with confusion and potential for conflict. Will parents routinely argue over minutes with the children which can add up, if counted, to more or less support being paid/received? Will parents cease to be flexible in adjusting their parenting time? The questions abound and the answers are few.
JOINT INCOMES IN EXCESS OF $250,000
The 2013 Guidelines, as the 2009 Guidelines, consider $250,000.00 combined family income as the minimum presumptive order for families whose income exceeds this level. However, the 2013 worksheet provides specificity as to each parent’s proportionate share of income in excess of the $250,000.00 level. As with the 2009 formula, the worksheet also provides a formula to calculate child support over the $250,000.00 level, utilizing the same variables used for families within the $250,000.00 boundary.
SUPPORT FOR CHILDREN AFTER HIGH SCHOOL
The 2013 Guidelines provide additional variables to be considered in the allocation of support for post-secondary dependent children, including, but not limited to, parental contributions to educational funding, available resources of each parent, residency of the children, financial aid, and the like.
MODIFICATION OF EXISTING ORDERS
Without waiting the mandatory three years and without a material change of circumstances, parties may apply for modification of existing orders if there is an inconsistency in the amount of the obligation for support under the old and new formulas. In addition modification is available for a material and substantial change of circumstances including increased cost of health insurance or health insurance not available at reasonable rates.
Divorcing and divorced parents need to recognize that their particular family’s circumstances may justify a deviation from the Guidelines. At the Centre for Mediation and Dispute Resolution consideration of support that best fits a family’s present and future circumstances and needs is central to the parties’ effort to create an agreement based on fairness and equity for all family members.
Please Call Our Office For Answers To Your Questions – 781.239.1600