On August 2, 2021, Chief Justice of the Trial Court, Paula M. Carey, signed new Child Support Guidelines, which go into effect on October 4, 2021. These new guidelines are the result of work by the Child Support Guidelines Task Force, which was convened by Chief Justice Carey in 2020 to undertake the quadrennial review of the Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines required by federal regulations.
If you currently pay or receive child support, you should consider whether these new guidelines result in a different child support obligation in your situation. There is a rebuttable presumption that the guidelines apply in all cases establishing or modifying a child support order, regardless of whether the parents are married or unmarried, the order is temporary or final, or the Court is deciding whether to approve an agreement for child support. There is also a rebuttable presumption that the amount of the child support order calculated under the guidelines is the appropriate amount of child support to be ordered. Existing child support orders are not automatically changed to be in compliance with the new guidelines unless the parties specifically agreed within the terms of an Agreement to automatically recalculate child support. Absent that, a modification action must be initiated to modify a child support obligation post-judgment. For anyone currently involved in an action involving child support, before coming to an agreement, support should be calculated using these new guidelines to determine the impact.
Some of the important changes include:
- Income: The definition of income for purposes of setting child support now explicitly includes 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 combined annual income of the parties. The 2021 guidelines use 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 is 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.
The 2021 Child Support Guidelines worksheet is currently not fillable – meaning the new four-page form must be calculated by hand. A fillable form is in the works.