The Trial Court of Massachusetts issued new Child Support Guidelines, which took effect last week on September 15th. There are many changes to the new Guidelines, but also a lot of things stayed the same. This article will explain the changes to the new Guidelines, but what also stayed the same compared to the 2013 Child Support Guidelines.
What’s The Same?
Many things have stayed the same under the new Child Support Guidelines. So what hasn’t changed? Here’s a quick summary of what’s still the same under the 2017 Guidelines:
- The Child Support Guidelines are still the standard for calculating child support in Massachusetts.
- The definition of income is still quite broad to include almost all categories of income a parent can earn, with the exception of any public assistance.
- The inclusion of overtime income or income from secondary jobs is still discretionary. The court may or may not include this income.
- The Probate and Family Court may still attribute income to a parent who is unemployed or underemployed.
- The Guidelines still acknowledge that child support and alimony can be intertwined, and the Probate and Family Court may enter appropriate orders relative to child support and alimony, giving due consideration to both the Child Support Guidelines and the Alimony Reform Act.
- The Guidelines still presume that the child support guidelines calculation applies to a parenting schedule where the custodial parent has approximately 2/3 of all parenting time and the non-custodial parent has approximately 1/3 of all parenting time.
- The Guidelines still allow a “cross guidelines” calculation where parents have joint physical custody or approximately equal parenting time. “Cross guidelines” are calculated by calculating the guidelines worksheet 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.
- The Guidelines still permit a credit for any child care costs paid by a parent.
- The Guidelines still permit a credit for medical, dental, and vision insurance costs premiums paid by a parent.
- The Probate and Family Court is still required to make an order relative to medical insurance coverage for children in any child support order, but the Court may also determine that medical insurance coverage is not available at a reasonable cost for either parent, and such coverage would create an undue financial hardship on one or both parents.
- The Guidelines still presume that the custodial parent will cover the first $250 in uninsured medical expenses for the children in any calendar year.
- The Guidelines still permit a credit for a parent paying child support under a separate, pre-existing child support order.
- The Guidelines still permit modification of an existing child support order, under the following circumstances:
- There is an inconsistency between the amount of the existing order and the amount that would result from the application of the guidelines;
- Previously ordered health care coverage is no longer available;
- Previously ordered health care coverage is still available but no longer at a reasonable cost or without an undue hardship;
- Access to health care coverage not previously available to a parent has become available; and
- Any other material and substantial change in circumstances has occurred.
- The Guidelines still permit deviations from a presumptive child support order under the following circumstances:
- the amount of the order that would result from application of the guidelines;
- that the guidelines amount would be unjust or inappropriate under the circumstances;
- the specific facts of the case which justify departure from the guidelines; and
- that such departure is consistent with the best interests of the child.
- Also, the grounds for deviation remain the same:
- the parties agree and the Court determines the agreement to be fair and reasonable and approves their agreement;
- a child has ongoing special needs or aptitudes with financial consequences;
- a child has ongoing extraordinary mental, physical, or developmental needs with financial consequences;
- a parent has ongoing extraordinary mental, physical, or developmental needs with financial consequences;
- a parent has extraordinary expenses for health care coverage;
- a parent has extraordinary travel or other expenses related to parenting;
- a parent is absorbing a child care cost that is disproportionate in relation to his or her income;
- a parent provides substantially less than one-third of the parenting time for a child or children;
- the payor is incarcerated and has insufficient financial resources to pay support;
- application of the guidelines, particularly in low income cases, leaves a parent without the ability to self support;
- application of the guidelines would result in a gross disparity in the standard of living between the two households such that one household is left with an unreasonably low percentage of the combined available income;
- application of the guidelines may adversely impact reunification of a parent and child where the child has been temporarily removed from the household in accordance with G.L.c. 119; and
- 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.
Even though many things stayed the same under the 2017 Guidelines, there are also many new differences and additions. This Includes:
- Support Orders for Children Ages 18-23
The new guidelines have now distinguished child support orders for support of children 0-17, and 18-23. For children 0-17, the guidelines presumptively apply. However, for children 18-23, the Guidelines may or may not apply. Specifically, the Guidelines state:
By statute, the Court has discretion either to order or to decline to order child support for children age 18 or older. If the Court exercises its discretion to order child support for children age 18 or older, the guidelines formula reduces the amount of child support in accordance with Table B of the guidelines worksheet. For the guidelines calculation to account for families with children both under age 18 and age 18 or older, the guidelines worksheet requires the input of information regarding the number of children age 18 or older and under age 18.
The Guidelines do go on to state that children who are over 18, but are still in high school, shall be considered under the age of 18 for purposes of calculating the Guidelines.
The Guidelines further clarify this new discretion for ordering child support for children 18-23, and state that the Court must consider:
the reason for the child’s continued residence with and principal dependence on the recipient, the child’s academic circumstances, the child’s living situation, the available resources of the parents, and each parent’s contribution to the costs of post-secondary education for the child and/or other children of the family. The Court may also consider any other relevant factors
In determining whether to order child support for a child aged 18-23, the Probate and Family Court must also consider any orders for contributions to college costs, which is discussed below.
- College Costs
The new Guidelines now allow a court to consider contributions towards college costs and post-secondary educational expenses. It is important to note that the Probate and Family Court is not required to order contributions towards college costs, rather is it discretionary. To determine whether to order contribution towards college costs, the Probate and Family Court must consider:
the cost of the post-secondary education, the child’s aptitudes, the child’s living situation, the available resources of the parents and child, and the availability of financial aid. The Court may also consider any other relevant factors
However, the new Guidelines have capped a parent’s contribution to college costs to “an amount in excess of fifty percent of the undergraduate, in-state resident costs of the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, unless the Court enters written findings that a parent has the ability to pay a higher amount”
- Parenting Time
Under the 2013 Guidelines, the Court was permitted to deviate from the guidelines “[w]here parenting time and financial responsibility are shared in a proportion greater than one-third, but less than 50%.” In this circumstance, the Guidelines stated that:
the child support guidelines shall be calculated first with one parent as the Recipient, and second as if the parties shared custody equally. The average of the base child support and the shared custody cross calculation shall be the child support amount paid to the Recipient.
Under the 2017 Guidelines, the Guidelines still permit a deviation, but the new Guidelines now state:
Where parenting time is substantially less than one-third for the parent who is not the residential parent, the Court may consider deviation by an upward adjustment to the amount calculated under the guidelines worksheet.
- Medical Insurance
The new Guidelines further provide a new adjustment/credit on payments towards medical insurance, so that the cost is now shared proportionately. Many parents will notice that the new Child Support Guidelines Worksheet looks different and longer from the 2013 Guidelines Worksheet. It is because of this adjustment. The Guidelines explain the calculation of the adjustment as follows:
First, a parent who is paying the health care deducts the out-of-pocket cost from his or her gross income. Second, the parties share the total health care costs for both parents in proportion to their income available for support. The combined adjustment for child care and health care costs is capped at fifteen percent of the child support order.
All-in-all, many things remained the same under the 2017 Child Support Guidelines, but the changes will impact many parents, children, and families. The biggest impact will likely be on families with children over 18 and/or in college. Now that the new Guidelines are in effect, parents should consider reviewing their existing child support orders to see if a modification is appropriate at this time.