Can a Court Deviate from the Child Support Guidelines?

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In Luce v. Folino-Inadoli, the Massachusetts Appeals Court (Rule 23.0 decision) affirmed the Probate and Family Court’s reduction of the child support amount paid by the father to the mother, as well as the denial of retroactive relief for the father.

In October 2018, the father initiated a modification action seeking to terminate child support, citing in part financial hardship.  After hearing, the Probate and Family Court reduced the father’s child support payment from $149 per week to $100 per week, required the father to pay $25 per week toward arrearages, denied the father retroactive relief as to the support amount, and entered a stipulation of the parties modifying parenting time.  

Father appealed, alleging the Probate and Family Court abused its discretion in calculating child support because it did not base the calculation on equally shared custody and also did not apply the reduction retroactively. The Appeals Court concluded there was no abuse of discretion as to the amount because the custodial arrangement was not in fact equally shared and further, even though the amount of ordered support was not a number produced by the Child Support Guidelines, the calculation used “reflects a deviation that is grounded in the circumstances of the parties and the best interests of the children.”

The Appeals Court explained that “calculating and modifying child support orders is governed by statute and by the [Massachusetts Child Support] Guidelines” (quoting Morales v. Morales). Further, “[t]here is a rebuttable presumption that the amount of the order which would result from the application of the guidelines is the appropriate amount of child support to be ordered” (quoting M.G.L. c. 208, § 28) (internal quotations omitted).  However, the court can deviate from the presumptive amount with written findings as to why the sum “would be unjust or inappropriate, that departure from the Guidelines is justified by the facts of the case, and that departure is consistent with the child’s best interests” (quoting Morales).

Finally, as to retroactive relief, the Appeals Court deemed no abuse of discretion given that the arrears were more than $14,000 and the father had not made any payments of child support to the mother in over a year.

For reference, here are links to the most recent Child Support Guidelines (as amended June 15, 2018) and Child Support Guidelines Worksheet (CJD 304 (6/15/18) CSG).  There is presently a Task Force reviewing the Child Support Guidelines, and there will be public forums held in January 2021 via Zoom. 


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