Do you pay or receive child support? Are you involved in a court action where child support is at issue? If so, then you need to be aware of the sweeping changes to the Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines.

The Chief Justice of the Administrative Office of the Trial Court recently announced the issuance of new child support guidelines, which will be applied to all child support orders beginning on January 1, 2009. In addition to a completely new structure for calculating support that provides for an “income sharing” approach, some of the more significant changes include:

  • The guidelines now apply to cases where the combined income of the parents is $250,000 per year, a significant increase over the prior maximum income of $135,000.
  • The new guidelines make clear that the formula is based upon the children living primarily with one parent and spending up to 1/3rd of their time with the other parent. In addition, the new guidelines provide a method to calculate support in cases of shared physical or split physical custody.
  • Each parent can now deduct from his/her gross income the reasonable and necessary childcare costs paid by him/her before calculation of the order. Out of pocket health insurance costs are also deducted from gross income before calculation of the order. The parent who receives child support will now be responsible to pay the first $250 per calendar year of uninsured medical and dental expenses. Who will be responsible for major medical expenses, such as orthodontia, is to be determined on a case by case basis.
  • The guidelines no longer provide for an increase in support based upon the age of the oldest child. Instead, the amount of support payable is the same for all children through age 18. After age 18, the amount of support remains discretionary and will take into consideration other costs being paid, including college.
  • The new guidelines provide that costs for extra-curricular activities, private school, post secondary education, and summer camp are not automatically the responsibility of one or both parents, but rather shall be allocated by the Court on a case by case basis.
  • The percentage of income payable as support has been changed, with percentages taken based upon the joint incomes of the parties in a range from 21 percent at the lowest income levels (combined available income of up to $200 per week), to 26 percent at combined available income levels between $321 and $500 per week, and then declining in increments down to 15 percent at the highest income levels (those earning a combined total over $3,500 per week).
  • Previously, the guidelines provided for a disregard of the first $20,000 per year in income of the recipient parent. The new guidelines eliminate this disregard. Further, the new guidelines have removed the provisions prohibiting attribution of income to a recipient parent with a child under the age of 6.

There are additional changes to the child support guidelines not outlined above which may impact the amount of support you pay or receive. Significantly, the new guidelines provide that if your support order was entered before January 1, 2006, you are entitled to seek a modification of that order to make it consistent with the new guidelines.