In March of 2012, a new Act, billed as a reform, changed forever how alimony would be treated in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
In August of 2013, along came a revision of the Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines, guidelines which had already been subject to a major overhaul in January of 2009.
In calendar years, the gap of four years and eight months may seem significant and even the division in time between March 2012 and August 2013, almost a full 1.5 years, may to some represent a notable passage of time. Yet in the legal world, three major changes in this relatively compacted time period are, indeed, quite monumental. With neary time to amass precedent or to ponder the laws’ effect on divorcing individuals and their families, the changes to the impacted population do in fact raise more questions than there are answers.
Let us consider the question raised by the August 2013 Child Support Guidelines as they intersect with the 2012 alimony law*. But first it is important to note that an individual payor’s income is not supposed to be assessed twice. This translates, in practice, to mean that a paying spouse’s income shall not be used, in full, for child support and then again for the calculation of alimony. There can, however, be a separation of the income. As such, you can use part of a payor’s income for the calculation of child support and part for alimony. Or you can change the percentages paid in support to accommodate a division of support between alimony and child support. Or you can devise another creative modification, provided the recipient spouse does not receive, after taxes, less support under this divided or changed formulaic approach than he or she would receive under a straight child support formula.
Ah, but the questions, I promised. Here goes:
How do you calculate child support only if:
The parties’ combined incomes exceed the Guideline ceiling of $250,000.00 if you do not want to have an alimony component in the support obligation?
How do you handle children’s extracurricular and extraordinary expenses in areas unrelated to noninsured health costs which are addressed in the Guidelines?
How do you actually calculate time spent with each parent in a formula that sets forth four different time versions pertaining to the division of parenting time? And, too, will parents now engage, more than before, in measuring each block of time in order to receive more support or to pay less support?
Are all of the income categories set forth on pages three and four of the Guidelines to be used for the calculation of support, or are there agreed upon exclusions by the parties?
How is overtime and secondary employment to be treated?
When does support stop? After high school? After college? Or is a hybrid treatment preferred by the parents?
How does funding for a child’s college education intersect with payment of child support?
Then, second, are the questions pertaining to alimony. Here is a small sample to consider:
Is the couple’s income, over and above the $250,000.00 Child Support ceiling, used for alimony in families where there are children, or perhaps, instead, used for additional child support?
If alimony is based on part of the payor’s income and child support on another part, what income is used in the formula when the obligation for alimony or for child support stops and the other obligation remains? Do you revert to the total income? Do you stay with the partial income?
Should alimony begin after child support ends?
Should couples consider a formula based first on alimony and then use these adjusted numbers to calculate child support (adding to one spouse’s income alimony received and deducting the same sum from the payor spouse’s income)?
Should tax considerations determine the formulas used? And if so, what if remarriage or other variables alter the tax consequences, not to mention if there are changes in the tax code?
The questions considered in this article represent only a small fraction of the myriad of issues to be weighed and measured in the determination of support. Individuals who have argued that support in Massachusetts boils down to the simple insertion of obvious numbers into a formulaic table are just plain wrong. More than ever, the structuring of support agreements require creativity and perseverance. Mediation more than ever presents an avenue for those who wish to create an agreement that will take options and consequences into consideration now, rather than risk repeated conflicts and/or returns to court to effect change.
*Act was passed in November of 2011 but put into formal practice in March of 2012.
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