If you pay or receive child support, it is essential to know how the new 2021 Massachusetts Guidelines impact you. On October 2, 2021, Chief Justice of the Trial Court, Paula M. Carey, signed New Child Support Guidelines for Massachusetts which became effective on October 4, 2021. The purpose of child care is to ensure that each parent is contributing to the needs of their children in proportion to their earnings. If a parent has more parenting time, they are generally paying more expenses directly and will therefore pay a lower percentage of child support. The Guidelines calculation is only a “presumed amount.” If there are extenuating circumstances or outside factors that lead to an unfair result, a judge can intervene and modify the child support order. You can calculate your child support obligations by going to the Court's Interactive 2021 Child Support Guidelines. They provide an extensive explanation of all the obligations and answer the most frequently asked questions. Overall, the new guidelines are likely to result in substantial increases in many child support cases.
The following are the most significant changes that were implemented: (1) changing the definition of income, (2) eliminating the cap on health insurance costs, (2) sharing child care costs between the parents, (3) increasing in multiplying factors for families with more than one child, (4) lowering minimum support obligations for extremely low-income payors, and (5) providing higher maximum income level to which the guidelines apply.
- Definition of Income: For the purposes of child support, income now includes income from stock options and similar incentives, excluding any income from the coverture allocated at the time of the parties' divorce subject to a child support order. The purpose of this change is to clarify that a party cannot avoid a child support obligation by choosing to be compensated through stock options or by otherwise reclassifying his or her income. In addition, income may include alimony.
- Elimination of the cap on health insurance costs: The total costs of health insurance paid by either party remains a deduction before determining available income, but the prior 15% cap of applicable cost has been eliminated.
- Sharing of child support costs between the parents: Under the new guidelines, health care costs and child-care costs are treated differently. Child care costs are no longer a deduction from income at the top of the Guidelines worksheet. In a marked departure from the prior regulations, the costs of child-care are now shared proportionately between the parties, regardless of who pays the cost. There is a presumptive limit of $355 per week per child, which is based on a 2018 Massachusetts Department of Education Report. It is important to note that the costs incurred must be “reasonable” and either “due to gainful employment” or “reasonably necessary for education, training or enhanced earning capacity.” This is a significant departure from the past guidelines under which a parent paying for child-care was given only a 15% credit for the costs of child-care.
- Increasing in multiplying factors for families with more than one child: The 2021 guidelines now provide for incremental increases in the amount of support based on the number of children. Pursuant to this formula, the base child support amount for the second child increases from 25% to 40% with additional children increasing that factor even further.
- Lower minimum support obligations for extremely low-income payors: Pursuant to the changes made in 2021, the minimum order when a payor's income is up to $210 per week is now $12 per week, a decrease from the previous order of $25 per week on an income of up to $115 per week. For payors with income between $211 and $249 per week, the order is now between $12 and $20. The Court also now has the discretion to set “$0” orders.
- Higher maximum income level to which the guidelines apply: The guidelines now presumptively apply to the first $400,000 ($7,692 per week) of the “combined available incomes” of the parents (previously $250,000 or $4,807 per week). The child support obligation for cases where income exceeds $400,000 is at the court's discretion. That said, the percentage applied to the payor's income above the maximum threshold should be below the percentage applied to the maximum income set forth per the table in the child support guidelines, i.e., 10%. Significantly, this is the first increase of its kind since 2009.
All states are required to revisit their child support guidelines every four years. To determine whether the new guidelines in Massachusetts impact you, it is essential to contact an experienced and knowledgeable family law attorney. For a free consultation, contact the Law Offices of Matthew T. Desrochers P.C. at (781) 279-1822.