Modification of Child Support: What legal standard should be applied in a child support modification action?

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On March 12, 2013, the Supreme Judicial Court ("SJC") in Morales v. Morales - SJC-11104 ruled that a divorced parent need not prove the widely recognized legal standard of "material and substantial change in circumstance" in order to modify a child support order in the Massachusetts Probate and Family Court.

Generally, in order to modify modifiable terms of a Divorce Judgment, the moving party has the burden of proving that there has been a material and substantial change of circumstance since the entry of the Divorce Judgment.

The SJC ruled for the first time that in the context of modifying a child support judgment where the child support amount is calculated pursuant to the Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines one need only prove that there is an inconsistency between the amount of the existing order and the amount that one would receive pursuant to the Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines at the time of the requested modification.

The SJC relied on the specific language of General Law Chapter 208, Section 28. Specifically, the SJC cited relevant sections of General Law Chapter 208, Section 28 as follows: "In furtherance of the public policy that dependent children shall be maintained as completely as possible from the resources of their parents and upon a complaint filed after a judgment of divorce, orders of maintenance and for support of minor children shall be modified if there is an inconsistency between the amount of the existing order and the amount that would result from the application of the Child Support Guidelines...."

The "inconsistency standard" is a lesser burden for the requesting party to meet than the "material and substantial change of circumstance" standard.

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