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Massachusetts Child Support
The Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines take into consideration the Gross Income (before taxes) from all sources for both parties and factors in the number of children (up to 5) in the family. In most instances, the guidelines allow deductions from the gross Income the costs associated with child care, health insurance, dental/vision, and other obligations such as child support and alimony from prior marriages.
For divorces involving children, it is very important early on for the custodial parent to file a motion for temporary orders to obtain a temporary child support order from the non-custodial parent to ensure that the children are taken care of financially while going through the divorce process. The court will decide with the aid of the child support guidelines and each parties financial statements what the financial obligations will be.
There are some situations where the custodial parent either doesn't work or just doesn't earn as much as the non-custodial parent and he/she may be unable to afford the mortgage, health insurance, private school or day care expenses even with a child support order in place. In those situations the court may order additional financial relief, including partial payment of the mortgage, beyond the child support order.
The new child support guidelines are utilized for all temporary orders and judgements for current child support orders entered after 1/1/2009. Existing child support orders and judgements less than 3 years old shall not be modified unless the income of one or both parties have changed or other new circumstances warrant modification.
It is important to note that the payor spouse cannot deduct child support payments from his or her income taxes. The custodial parent that receives child support payments isn't required to pay taxes. The only exception to this rule is if both sides agree and the court accepts the reduction of child support in favor of alimony to provide the paying spouse a greater tax benefit.
Alimony payments are tax deductable to the payor and taxable to the payee. It is important to consult with your tax advisor to find out the latest tax laws affecting both child support and alimony before taking any deductions as tax laws do change.
Calculating Your Child Support Obligations
Massachusetts uses the Child Support Guidelines Worksheet to calculate the minimum presumptive amount of child support to be ordered by the court whether the parents of the children are married or unmarried.
The Child Support Worksheet was designed for parties with a combined gross income level not to exceed $250,000 per year. In cases where income exceeds this limit, the court should consider the award of the support at the $250,000 level as the minimum presumptive order. Any income above this amount may be a source for alimony consideration.
You can expect to receive child support payments until the child(ren) reach the age of 18 or older if they are still attending high school or are principally dependent on the custodial parent. If your child(ren) are attending college, child support will continue until the age of 23.
A Child Support order may be modified by going to court under certain circumstances such as a material change in circumstances, or an increase or decrease in income. Other circumstances may include changes in health insurance premiums or an existing child support order that is at least 3 years old.
The child support guidelines are generally based upon the child(ren) having a primary residence with one parent and spending one third of the time with the other parent.
In cases where two parents share approximately equally, the financial responsibility and parenting time for the child(ren), the child support shall be determined by calculating the child support guidelines twice, first with one parent as the recipient, and second with the other parent as the recipient. The difference in the calculations shall be paid to the parent with the lower weekly support amount.
For a detailed explanation of the Child Support Worksheet, please refer to the Child Support Guidelines. I've provided below a summary of some key factors that are considered in setting the Child Support order.
Other Spousal & Child Support Orders
The amount paid to support a former spouse or children not covered by this order shall be deducted from your gross income.
Credit for Support Obligations
The new 2009 Child Support Guidelines Worksheet Calculator now provides credit to either parent that pays for child care, health insurance, dental/vision, and other support obligation costs by allowing them to deduct the amount from their gross income before the formula is applied to determine the child support order as long as those expenses are reasonable.
Parents Unemployed or Underemployed
For those parents that are capable of working but chose to remain unemployed or underemployed, the courts should consider potential earnings capacity rather than actual earnings in making its order.
Income from Overtime or 2nd Jobs
After a child support order is entered, a payor or recipient can earn extra income by working overtime or obtain a second job and the court should not consider this income in future support orders.
Designating Child Support as Alimony
Child support is non-deductible by the payor and non-taxable to the recipient. The court will consider child support in whole or in part as alimony provided the after-tax support received by the recipient is not diminished. It is the responsibility of the parties to present the tax consequences of proposed orders to the court
Other Child Related Expenses
If the parents can afford other child related expenses, the court may allocate costs to the parties on a case-by-case basis for extra-curricular activities, private school, post-secondary education, or summer camps if it is in the best interests of the children.
The Court, or the parties by agreement approved by the Court, may deviate from the guidelines and overcome the presumptive application of the guidelines provided the Court enters specific written findings stating:
1. the amount of the order that would result from application of the guidelines;
2. that the guidelines amount would be unjust or inappropriate under the circumstances
3. the specific facts of the case which justify departure from the guidelines; and
4. that such departure is consistent with the best interests of the child.
Circumstances which may support deviation include, but are not limited to the following:
- the parties agree and the Court approves their agreement;
- a child has special needs or aptitudes;
- a child has extraordinary medical or other expenses;
- application of the guidelines, particularly low income earners, leaves a party without the ability to self support;
- Payor is incarcerated, is likely to remain incarcerated for an additional 3 years and has insufficient financial resources to pay support;
- application of the guidelines would result in a gross disparity in standard of living between the two households such that one household is left with an unreasonably low percentage of the combined available income;
- a parent has extraordinary medical expenses;
- a parent has extraordinary travel or other expenses related to parenting;
- application of the guidelines may adversely impact reunification of a parent and child where the child has been temporary removed from the household based upon allegations of neglect; or
- absent deviation, application of the guidelines would lead to an order that is unjust, inappropriate or not in the best interests of the child, considering the principles of these guidelines.
Massachusetts Child Support Statute: Mass General Laws Ch. 208, sec 32
Unlike child support, there is currently no set formula for determining alimony and judges have discretion as to whether it's awarded or not. In general, the court must consider the following mandatory factors when making a determination about alimony:
- the length of marriage
- the conduct of the parties during marriage
- the ages of the parties
- the health of the parties
- station in life
- occupation of the parties
- amount and sources of income
- vocational skills of the parties
- employability of each party
- estate of the parties
- liabilities and needs of the parties, and
- the opportunity of each for future acquisition of capital assets and income.
The court must consider all of the mandatory factors but the weight assigned to each factor is at the sole discretion of the judge. The judge has discretion when making comprehensive equitable awards in large estates to allocate property or assets in exchange for a reduction in alimony awards.
Often times the parties in a divorce believe that "the conduct of the parties during marriage" should carry the highest weight and warrants disproportionate award of alimony and marital property. What the parties fail to realize is that the probate and family court is not a court of moral judgement and any such argument will usually carry little weight in the award of additional alimony and a disproportionate share of the marital estate.
In general, the court usually doesn't award alimony in short-term marriages (generally up to 7 years) without children but they tend to make an equitable division of assets obtained during the marriage. If they do make an award of alimony, it usually is just enough to give the other spouse some time to enter the workforce.
In intermediate marriages (generally 7 to 15 years) where one spouse works and the other doesn't, judges are likely to order some form of temporary alimony. This allows the spouse receiving the award to get retrained in order to reenter the workforce or finish up a degree in order to increase their earning potential so that he/she may re enter the workforce.
In longer term marriages (generally 16 years or more), the court will often award longer duration or even permanent alimony unless a material change in circumstances occurs such as remarriage by the recipient or death of either party.
Where children are involved, by increasing the combined gross income levels from $135,000 under the old guidelines to $250,000 under the new guidelines, the courts have reduced the number of alimony awards as the new guidelines apply to a greater portion of the population. Even so, the court may consider income above $250,000 per year as a source for an alimony award.
Tax Treatment of Alimony
Alimony is taxable income to the recipient and tax deductable to the payor. The court will consider a decrease in child support payments in exchange for increased alimony as long as both parties make a case that the combined payments doesn't fall below the minimum after tax child support income as determined by the child support guidelines. They will also consider reducing or eliminating a payer's alimony obligation in exchange for greater share of the marital assets.
Massachusetts Alimony Statute: Mass General Laws Ch. 208, sec 34