Client Alert: 2017 Revisions to Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines

October 5, 2017

By: Gregory N. Hoffman and Rui P. Alves

New Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines Effective September 15, 2017

Every four (4) years, the Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines are reviewed and updated by a Task Force appointed by the Chief Justice of the Trial Court. Following the review by the Task Force, on September 15, 2017, the new Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines went into effect. The new Guidelines affect pending cases as well as those people currently paying or receiving child support.

Major Revisions to Child Support Guidelines

1. 25% Reduction of Child Support Obligations for Children Ages 18-23
The first significant revision to the Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines is a twenty-five percent (25%) reduction across the board for all support obligations for children ages 18-23. Notably, this reduction does not apply to children that are 18 years old and still enrolled in high school. In addition, the Court still has the discretion to deviate from the blanket twenty-five percent (25%) reduction if the facts so require.

2. Presumptive Cap on College Expense Contribution
The second significant revision to the Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines concerns contributions to college expenses. With the increasingly expensive cost of college education, parental contributions to the costs of education has remained a constant point of contention. Under the new Guidelines, a cap is placed on the college expense contributions such that a parent under an obligation to contribute to college only has to do so at the rate of one-half (50%) of the in-state undergrad tuition at University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Further, the Guidelines suggest that the Court shall consider both the cost of college expenses and the child support order when determining an appropriate amount of contribution. It is unclear how the new presumptive cap applies to parties with Separation Agreements in excess of the cap; however, it is clear the new revision does not apply to children that are already enrolled in college.

3. Removal of “Hybrid” Child Support Order for Parties with 33-50% of Parenting Time
The third significant revision to the Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines concerns the often litigated issue caused by the parenting time/child support calculation that was inserted in the 2013 Guidelines. The new Guidelines remove the hybrid child support order in an attempt to end the practice of “counting hours.”

4. Child Care and Health Care Costs
The fourth significant revision to the Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines includes a capped adjustment in the child support calculation for child care and health care costs at fifteen percent (15%) of the total support order. In addition, the new Guidelines clarify how to include the health insurance costs of both the payor and recipient in the guideline calculations.

5. Imputed and Attributed Income, Self-Employment
The fifth significant revision to the Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines concerns another often litigated issue, namely, the calculation of the respective incomes of both the payor and recipient. The new Guidelines clarify that overtime income is to be excluded from the child support calculations. Further, additional income to take into account includes non-taxable self-employment income, undocumented income, i.e. free rent, personal expenses paid by business, if significant, and decreased personal living expenses. The new Guidelines direct the Court to look beyond the parties’ tax returns and seek unreported income in order to craft an appropriate support order. Finally, it is unclear whether a vocational expert will be necessary to testify regarding issues such as attribution of income or if the same may be accomplished through testimony and evidence concerning the delineated factors.

6. Encourage “Unallocated Family Support” in Cases Where Child Support and Alimony Present
The sixth significant revision to the Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines concerns the encouragement of the Court to utilize awards of “unallocated family support” in an attempt to benefit the child, the payor and the recipient. In sum, the Guidelines encourage the Court to consider the universal tax consequences of the support order in an attempt to achieve the best possible tax consequences for all involved.

7. Increase in Minimum Support Order to $25.00 per week
The seventh and final significant revision to the Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines was an increase in the minimum support order to $25.00 per week.

For more information or to determine whether your child support obligation or award is subject to upward or downward modification, please contact Gregory N. Hoffman at ghoffman@bartongilman.com and Rui P. Alves at ralves@bartongilman.com or by phone at 401.273.7171.

Gregory N. Hoffman focuses his practice on complex family law, criminal law and general civil litigation. He actively practices in the courts of Massachusetts and Rhode Island litigating cases such as divorce, child custody, child support, domestic violence, criminal defense and personal injury. In addition, Greg significant amount of time developing comprehensive and cost-effective solutions in the drafting of a variety of domestic relations agreements such as Separation Agreements and Antenuptial Agreements.

Rui P. Alves is an experienced Rhode Island and Massachusetts litigator and advocate in family law, criminal law and government relations matters in both state and federal court. Rui concentrates his practice on helping individuals and corporations craft solutions for complex issues related to domestic relations, criminal defense and government affairs.