What Is Child Support and how is it determined by the court in Massachusetts.

Both parents are legally obligated to provide for their children. If the parents separate, this expectation is continued through the process of child support. At the dissolution of their relationship, typically the child or children shall reside primarily with one parent and the other parent shall have parenting time with the child/children. The understanding is that with whom the child primarily resides, otherwise known as the custodial parent, will provide support through paying for the child’s daily care, while the other parent, the non-custodial parent, will continue support through monthly payments directed to the custodial parent. It is important to note that child support can be ordered against one parent even if the parents have joint physical custody.

Calculating Child Support
The calculation of child support is initiated through the family courts. If the parents are divorcing, the calculation and order of support will take place during the divorce proceedings. If the parents were never married a child support order can be initiated through the Massachusetts Department of Revenue or in conjunction with a complaint for custody-support and parenting time through the Massachusetts family courts. If the father of the child has not signed a voluntary acknowledgement of paternity and there have been no previous court proceedings to determine paternity, you will need to file a Complaint to Establish Paternity before child support can be ordered.

The court will look at various factors when determining an appropriate child support award. The primary factor considered is the gross income for both parties. Each parent is required to report all income that receives including tips, overtime, disability, unemployment, and worker’s compensation. In addition to income, the court will also look at the expenses of each parent.

These include:

  • Childcare costs
  • Healthcare premiums
  • Other child support orders. If there is no child support order, the parent will receive a credit against their income for additional children.

The court will use these figures to determine a presumptive child support obligation. This amount is rebuttable given that the parent can show there to be circumstances that warrant further review of initial calculation.

Once a court order is established, an income withholding order will be sent to the paying parent’s (obligor) employer. The employer will be responsible for withholding support payments from your paychecks.

The obligor will continue to pay the court ordered amount until it is modified or terminated. A modification can be requested if one of the following applies:

  • The income of one or both of the parents has changed
  • The costs of caring for the child have substantially changed
  • The parent’s health insurance choices have changed.

Ending a Child Support Obligation
The obligor must pay child support until the court order is terminated. Unfortunately, when this occurs can vary from case to case. Traditionally, a child support order ends once the child turns 18. This can be extended to the child’s high school graduation if the child turns 18 while still attending high school. However, Massachusetts’s law differs from most other states in that it allows child support payments to extend beyond the child’s 18th birthday. Child support can be extended under the following circumstances:

  • The child is over the age of 18 but under the age of 21, residing with a parent whom they are financially dependent on.
  • The child is over the age of 21 but under the age of 23 and is residing with a parent whom they are financially dependent on because they are attending post secondary school.

You should note that child support may be calculated differently once the child turns 18. The court has the discretion to consider additional income sources and financial contributions towards the child’s school.

If you need help establishing a child support order or understanding your legal obligations, speak with an experienced family law attorney at our firm. We will be able to help you navigate the laws and determine your next steps.