Every child has the legal right to receive financial support from his or her parents, whether the parents are separated, divorced or were never married. Child support keeps many families from needing public assistance. Combined with a parent's wages, child support can make the family self sufficient. Child support means different things to different families, but most importantly, child support can mean a better life for your child.
  1. What is child support?
  2. Who can seek a child support order?
  3. Who can help with child support orders?
  4. How do I get an order for child support?
  5. What happens in the court process?
  6. What do I bring to court for the hearing?
  7. What if the parent paying support doesn't show up at the hearing?
  8. What about alimony, custody and visitation?
  9. How much child support will the parent receiving support get?
  10. What if the parent paying support is still in school or has no job?
  11. Will a child support order include health insurance?
  12. How long will a parent have to pay child support?
  13. Can the amount of a child support order be changed?
  14. What if the parent paying support lives in a different state?
  15. What if the parent receiving support doesn't know where the other parent is?
  16. How long does it take to get a child support order?
  17. How does the Child Support Enforcement Division collect child support?
  18. How does a parent receive the child support?
  19. Other information that might be helpful

1. What is child support?
 

Child support is financial support -- most often a regular payment -- that a parent pays when that parent lives apart from his or her child. To help raise the child, the parent who does not live with the child (also known as the "noncustodial parent" or the "parent paying support") gives money to the parent who does live with the child (also known as the "custodial parent" or the "parent receiving support"). This money is called child support. The parent paying support may also include the child in a health care plan. A court sets the amount of child support that a parent must pay in a child support order.

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2. Who can seek a child support order?
 

Any parent or guardian of a child can seek a child support order: mothers, fathers, grandparents or legal caretakers.

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3. Who can help with child support orders?
 

The Child Support Enforcement Division of the Massachusetts Department of Revenue (DOR) assists parents in establishing paternity and child support orders, collecting child support for the families it serves and asking courts to adjust child support orders when circumstances change. Any parent or guardian of a child under 18 years old can ask DOR for help with a child support order or with establishing paternity. The Application and Agreement for Child Support Services pdf format of    request.pdf  (PDF) is available online, and you can call Customer Service at 800-332-2733 if you have questions. If you receive public assistance, you can talk to your caseworker at the Department of Transitional Assistance. You do not have to be on public assistance for DOR to help you, and it does not cost you any money to apply for child support services from DOR.

When you apply for services, DOR tries very hard to help your child get the support to which he or she is entitled. Whether DOR succeeds depends upon how much information you provide, how up-to-date and accurate it is, whether DOR is able to locate the other parent and what financial resources are available to support your child once DOR locates the parent.

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4. How do I get an order for Child Support?
 

If you were never married to the child's other parent, the first step is to establish paternity (legal fatherhood). For more information about establishing paternity for your child, please read one of our paternity guides: "A Paternity Guide for Mothers," "A Paternity Guide for Fathers," or "A Paternity Guide for Unmarried Parents." You can also call DOR Customer Service toll-free at 800-332-2733, local callers, 617-660-1234.

The next step, if the parents are living apart, is to have a judge decide what the parent paying support must contribute to raise that child. If your child is not living with you, the court can order you to support your child financially and to provide health insurance.

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5. What happens in the court process?
 

The court process begins with a paper filed with the court called a complaint. You can file this document yourself or your private attorney can file it. DOR will file it for you if you ask for DOR services or if you are receiving public assistance. The complaint asks a judge to establish paternity, if necessary, and to make an order for child support. After the complaint is filed, the other parent must be officially notified about the case. A date is then scheduled for a court hearing.

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6. What do I bring to court for the hearing?
 

If your case involves establishing paternity and you are the parent receiving support, you should bring the children who are involved in the case and a photo ID of yourself. The children should be in court in case genetic testing (done by rubbing a cotton swab inside the mouth) is necessary to determine who their biological father is. Try to arrange for a baby-sitter for any children who are not involved in the case. You may want to bring a book or other quiet activities for yourself and the children since you may have to wait in court for a long time.

Both parents should bring any papers that relate to the case: the children's birth certificates (if the parents are not married to each other), your marriage certificate and divorce decrees (if you and the other parent were married ), financial information like W-2 forms and bank statements, and information about other income and assets and about any outstanding debts.

Whether you are the parent receiving support or the parent paying support, a court appearance is an important and serious matter. You should dress neatly.

For more information on the court you will be visiting, see our court guides.

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7. What if the parent paying support doesn't show up at the hearing?
 

As long as the parent paying support has been properly notified about the hearing, a judge can establish paternity and a child support order even if the parent does not appear in court.

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8. What about alimony, custody and visitation?
 

If a judge makes an order for alimony (also known as spousal support) and child support, DOR will try to enforce the order for alimony along with the child support. A parent receiving support must ask the court to set alimony. DOR only asks the court to establish paternity and a child support order.

When the parents are not married, the mother has custody of their child unless a court orders otherwise. Either parent can ask a court to decide any questions about custody or visitation that the parents cannot work out themselves. The court will decide what is best for the child. DOR does not handle custody or visitation issues. If you have questions about custody or visitation, talk to the Family Service Officer who is at the court.

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9. How much child support will the parent receiving support get?
 

In Massachusetts, child support orders are calculated using the Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines. The guidelines provide for a parent to pay a certain amount of money to support his or her child, based on the income of both parents and on the number of children to be supported. The guidelines allow the judge to consider whether the parent paying support has another family to support. If the judge finds that a case presents special circumstances, the judge may calculate the order without using the guidelines. Call DOR Customer Service at 800-332-2733 or go online and download a copy of the guidelines.

The judge will set the amount of the child support order by:

  • calculating the order for the parents; or
  • approving an agreement made by the parents or -- if the parent receiving support receives assistance -- made by the other parent and DOR.

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10. What if the parent paying support is still in school or has no job?
 

A parent is responsible for their child even if the parent is still in school or has no job. In setting a child support order, the judge will look at the parent's income and other circumstances to decide how much that parent should pay in child support. The judge may order the parent to get a job to help support the child. As the parent's circumstances change (for example, he or she gets a better job or wins the lottery) the amount of child support can change, too.

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11. Will a child support order include health insurance?
 

Yes. If the parent paying support has health insurance available, an order for child support must include an order that the parent provide insurance coverage for the child and, in some cases, the parent receiving support. The parent paying support's employer (if the insurance is available through the parent's job) and insurance carrier will be notified of the order and must enroll the child in the plan immediately. The child does not have to wait for open enrollment. If the parent does not have health insurance, the court may order that the parent provide coverage if and when the coverage becomes available in the future.

If you have any questions or comments, send an e-mail, and/or review the information of our website for medical support.

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12. How long will a parent have to pay child support?
 

A Massachusetts child support order may end when a child turns 18, but also may continue up to the child's 23rd birthday, depending on the child's circumstances and the order of the court.

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13. Can the amount of a child support order be changed?
 

Yes. This is called a modification or adjustment. If there is a change in a parent's income or the child's needs, the amount of a child support order can be raised or lowered by a judge. Either parent may call DOR to request a review of a child support order if one of them thinks the order needs to be adjusted. DOR will review it to determine whether the facts support the need for a change and, if so, DOR will help you go to court to ask that the order be adjusted. If you want DOR to review your case, call DOR Customer Service at 800-332-2733, (local callers, 617-660-1234), or download a modification request form from our website and follow the instructions.

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14. What if the parent paying support lives in a different state?
 

That parent still has to pay child support. There is a law that provides for collecting child support and enforcing support orders across state lines. For more information review Child Support: When the Parent Paying Support Lives in Another State or call our Customer Service Bureau at 800-332-2733.

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15. What if the parent receiving support doesn't know where the other parent is?
 

DOR will try to locate the other parent. DOR needs as much information about the other parent as the parent receiving support can provide:

  • full name;
  • full address;
  • Social Security number;
  • date of birth;
  • physical description and photograph;
  • employer's name and address;
  • other income and property information;
  • telephone number (including area code);
  • names of the parents of the parent paying support;
  • motor vehicle information (year, make, model, registration/license number, state of registration); and
  • any other information the parent has that will help DOR locate the parent paying support.

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16. How long does it take to get a child support order?
 

The amount of time it takes to establish a child support order varies from case to case. The more information a parent can provide DOR and the more accurate it is, the quicker DOR can get a child support order and begin collecting child support. In some cases, DOR must establish paternity for a child or locate the other parent before obtaining a child support order. Copies of any divorce orders, separation papers, restraining orders, birth certificates for the children or other related documents also help move the process along.

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17. How does the Child Support Enforcement Division collect child support?
 

DOR can collect child support payments the following ways:

  • From an employer: If the parent paying support has a job, the judge must order the noncustodial parent's employer to take the child support directly out of his or her paycheck and send it to us. This is called a "wage assignment," or an "income withholding order."

  • From other sources: If the parent has no job but receives Unemployment or Workers' Compensation benefits, DOR can collect child support by having the support deducted from the parent's benefits and sent to DOR. This is also called an "income withholding order."

  • With direct payments from the parent paying support: If the parent is self-employed or has income that cannot be collected through an income withholding order, he or she will be ordered to pay DOR directly.

  • With a seek work order: If the parent paying support does not have a job or attends school, the judge may order him or her to find a job. This is called a "seek work order." A judge may order the parent to pay some child support while seeking employment.

In some cases, none of these methods works. If the parent does not pay the child support owed on time and in full, it becomes "past-due support" (often referred to as "arrears"). If the parent receiving support is receiving child support services from DOR, we can try the following enforcement measures to collect the past-due support:

  • take money out of the parent's state and federal income tax refunds;
  • seize money in the parent's bank accounts;
  • report the debt and payment information to credit bureaus;
  • place liens on the parent's house and other property to prevent the sale of the property;
  • suspend licenses held by the parent, such as a driver's license, electrician's license or other occupational or professional license;
  • seize the parent's property such as luxury vehicles and boats;
  • charge the parent interest on the past due child support; and
  • In some cases, DOR will also ask a judge to order the parent to make payments or risk going to jail.

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18. How does a parent receive the child support?
 

Once DOR receives the child support payments made by the other parent, DOR sends the money:

  • Directly to the parent or guardian receiving support: If the family does not receive public assistance, DOR collects and records the child support payment and then sends a check directly to the parent or guardian of the child.
  • To the Department of Transitional Assistance (DTA) if the family receives public assistance: If the parent receiving support receives public assistance, DOR collects and records the child support payment and sends it to DTA (formerly the Department of Public Welfare). The money is used to repay the Commonwealth for the public assistance paid to the family. When the parent no longer receives public assistance, he or she will receive all the support DOR collects (except for arrears DOR collects that may go to repay the Commonwealth).

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Other information that might be helpful to you:
 

For more information, e-mail DOR or call 800-332-2733 (local callers, 617-660-1234). If you are hearing impaired, call 800-255-5587 for TDD.