In accordance with federal regulations (i.e., 45 CFR, § 302.56), the Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines Task Force has completed its quadrennial review of the Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines (“Guidelines”). On August 2, 2021, the Trial Court released revised/amended Guidelines (“new Guidelines”) that will take effect on October 4, 2021. See Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines (2021). “There is a rebuttable presumption that the guidelines apply in all cases establishing or modifying a child support order, regardless of whether the parents of the child are married or unmarried, the order is temporary or final, or the Court is deciding whether to approve an agreement for child support. There shall also be a rebuttable presumption that the amount of the child support order calculated under these guidelines is the appropriate amount of child support to be ordered.”
For both parties and practitioners alike, it is important to understand some significant changes to child support calculations that will become effective with the implementation of the new Guidelines, including the following:
Minimum and maximum levels: Whereas prior Guidelines calculated child support up to $250,000 of the parties’ combined available incomes, the new Guidelines are “calculated up to a maximum combined available annual gross income of the parties of $400,000.” The new Guidelines instruct that, in cases where the parties’ available combined income exceeds $400,000, the Court should consider the new Guideline calculation at the $400,000 level as the presumptive minimum order. While it is within the Court’s discretion to consider the parties’ available gross income in excess of $400,000 in establishing an appropriate child support order, the new Guidelines provide that “any percentage applied to the payor’s income above the maximum level, as listed in Line 8b of the guidelines worksheet, should be below the percentage applied to the maximum level in Table A (10%).”
As for minimum orders, in cases where a parent/payor’s income is $210/week or less, the new Guidelines establish a minimum child support order of $12/week. In cases where a parent/payor’s income falls between $210/week and $249/week, the obligation will vary between $12/week and $20/week.
Guideline adjustments for how parents share child care and health care costs: Under the new Guidelines, child care costs are no longer a deduction from income at the top of the Guidelines worksheet. Rather, “[r]easonable child care costs of up to $355 per week, per child for the children covered by the child support order and due to gainful employment of either parent are shared by the parents in proportion to their share of combined available income.” Additionally, while prior Guidelines provide a “combined adjustment for child care and health care costs [is] capped at fifteen percent of the child support order,” under the new Guidelines, the 15% cap is eliminated. In short, the new Guidelines treat child care costs and health care costs differently. “This is a significant change to the guidelines with potentially large impacts, since child care costs are higher than child support amounts in many cases. Its impact will be to increase child support, possibly significantly, for families where a recipient pays for child care, and to decrease child support for families where a payor pays for child care.” See Economic Review of the Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines 2020-2021.
Child support for families with more than one child: For child support orders covering multiple children, the new Guidelines provide for increases in the applicable adjustments to support for multiple children, which has the practical effect of “materially increas[ing] child support amounts for families with more than one child.” See Economic Review of the Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines 2020-2021.