Massachusetts – On August 2, 2021, the new Child Support Guidelines was signed by Chief Justice of the Trial Court, Paula M. Carey. The new guidelines will take effect on October 4, 2021.
The new guidelines are a result of the efforts of the Child Support Guidelines Task Force. The task force was convened by Chief Justice Carey to tackle the quadrennial review of the Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines required by federal regulations.
Some of the important changes are as follows:
- Income: The definition of income for purposes of setting child support now explicitly includes the income derived from stock options and similar incentives, excluding any income from the coverture portion allocated at the time of the divorce of the parties subject to a child support order. While this does not change substantive law, the change is designed to emphasize that a person cannot avoid a child support obligation by choosing to be compensated with stock options or by otherwise reclassifying his or her income. See Ludwig v. Lamee-Ludwig, 91 Mass. App. Ct. 36 (2017); Wooters v. Wooters, 74 Mass. App. Ct. 839 (2009). Additionally, income may now include alimony, consistent with Calvin C. v. Amelia A., 99 Mass. App. Ct. 714 (2021).
- Minimum order: The 2018 guidelines provided for a minimum order of $25 per week. The 2021 guidelines provide for a minimum order of $12 per week while preserving the Court’s authority to set the appropriate level of support, including at $0.
- Amount of income to which the guidelines apply: The 2018 guidelines applied to the first $250,000 of a combined annual income of the parties. The 2021 guidelines use the maximum combined available annual gross income of the parties of $400,000 per year, which is a significant increase. In cases where income exceeds $400,000, the task force has recommended that the Court consider the award of support at the $400,000 level as the minimum presumptive order. The child support obligation for any portion of combined available income that exceeds $400,000 is at the discretion of the Court. However, any percentage applied to the payor’s income above the minimum level should be below the percentage applied to the maximum income per the table in the guidelines, i.e., below 10%.
- Child care costs: Sharing of child care costs are changed in the 2021 guidelines. Reasonable child care costs of up to $355 per week, per child, due to the gainful employment of either party, are now to be shared in proportion to the parties’ incomes. Previously, a parent paying for child care was given only a 15% credit for the costs of child care. This change may have a significant impact on the amount of child support.
- Adjustments for more than one child: The 2021 guidelines now provide for incremental increases in the amount of support based upon the number of children that is greater than the amount under the 2018 guidelines.
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Following the big changes in the guidelines are the new child-support worksheets that are much harder than the previous forms. They are four pages long, and because the guidelines are new and do not take effect until October 4, there is no self-calculating form just yet.
You can start filing your complaint about modification now, that way you file a motion for an increase in support and be heard shortly after the guidelines take effect.