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2021 Child Support Guidelines: Introductory material

Preamble and principles of the 2021 Massachusetts child support guidelines.

Table of Contents

Preamble

These child support guidelines shall take effect on October 4, 2021, and shall be applied to all child support orders and judgments entered as of October 4, 2021. In recognition of the priority of the interests of the children of the Commonwealth, these guidelines are formulated to be used by all of the justices of the Trial Court. There shall be a rebuttable presumption that these 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. These guidelines are based on various considerations, including, but not limited to, each parent’s earnings, income, and other evidence of ability to pay. These guidelines are intended to be of assistance to attorneys and to parties in determining what level of payment would be expected given the relative income levels of the parties. In all cases where an order for child support may be established or modified, a guidelines worksheet must be filled out, regardless of the income of the parties.

Commentary

2021

The Child Support Guidelines Task Force for the 2020-2021 review (“Task Force”) was convened by Chief Justice of the Trial Court Paula M. Carey in the summer of 2020 to undertake the quadrennial review of the Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines (“guidelines”) as required by federal regulations. See 45 C.F.R. § 302.56. An economic consultant, The Brattle Group, was selected after the Trial Court published a Request for Proposals through the Commonwealth’s official online procurement record site, COMMBUYS. The economic consultant provided information and research to the Task Force. The Task Force’s comprehensive review included assessing each section of the guidelines, line by line, as a whole and in subcommittees.

Throughout its review, the Task Force was cognizant that child support in Massachusetts seeks to reflect the incremental cost of raising a child, separate and distinct from expenses of other household members.

The Task Force’s role was limited to reviewing the guidelines and making recommendations to Chief Justice Carey. The Task Force heard testimony and reviewed the submissions of members of the public, attorneys, judges, and court staff. A number of the submitted comments addressed topics and issues beyond the scope of the Task Force, such as the statutory provisions relating to custody determinations, child support for children between the ages of 18 and 23, and the interplay between alimony and child support. The Task Force recognizes and agrees that these are important issues, however, the remedy for making statutory changes to address these issues is with the Legislature and not with the Task Force.

In formulating its recommendations, the Task Force considered public comments, written testimony, legal and economic research, information from the economic consultant, and the comments and experience of Task Force members. The Task Force recommended edits to simplify and clarify portions of the guidelines, as well as for policy considerations.

These guidelines include commentary to indicate the reasoning and intent behind the recommendations of the Task Force. Trial Court departments, parties, and attorneys may use the commentary to resolve questions of interpretation or application of the guidelines.

The Task Force recommended eliminating the word “litigant” from the Preamble and instead inserting “parties”, recognizing that not all cases involve litigation.

2018

After the promulgation of the Child Support Guidelines in September 2017, the Trial Court reviewed two issues on which it received questions: the application of the adjustment factors for children 18 years of age or older, and the adjustment for child care, health care coverage, and dental/vision insurance costs when parents share financial responsibility and parenting time approximately equally. In the June 2018 amendments, the Trial Court revised the age adjustment factors in the worksheet to eliminate counterintuitive outcomes in support orders for four or five children, at least one being 18 years of age or older. The Trial Court also redesigned the worksheet so that one worksheet can be used regardless of whether the parenting plan is shared, split, or approximately 2/3 and 1/3. It is no longer necessary to use multiple worksheets to determine the child support amount where there is shared or split parenting plans. The June 2018 amendments do not address the 2018/2019 changes to the federal tax code with regard to alimony and dependency exemptions.

2017

The Child Support Guidelines Task Force for the 2016-2017 review (“Task Force”) was convened by Chief Justice of the Trial Court Paula M. Carey in the spring of 2016 to undertake the quadrennial review of the Massachusetts child support guidelines (“guidelines”) as required by federal regulations. See 45 C.F.R. § 302.56. In January 2017, amendments to § 302.56 became effective. The Task Force for this quadrennial review was not required to implement the January 2017 amendments, and thus did not do so in this review. However, where appropriate and constructive, the Task Force considered the policies underlying the 2017 amendments when making its recommendations.

The comprehensive review of the Task Force included reviewing each section of the guidelines, line by line, as a whole and in subcommittees. In formulating its recommendations, the Task Force considered public comments, relevant research, information from economic consultants, and the comments and experience of Task Force members. The Task Force was cognizant that child support in Massachusetts seeks to reflect the incremental cost of raising a child, separate and distinct from expenses of other household members. The Task Force recommended edits for simplification, clarification, and policy considerations. These guidelines include commentary to indicate the reasoning and intent behind the recommendations of the Task Force. Trial Court departments, litigants and attorneys may use the commentary to resolve questions of interpretation or application of the guidelines.

The changes made in the Preamble reflect that the guidelines apply to child support orders entered as of September 15, 2017. The fifth sentence of the Preamble was added for clarification and is consistent with the January 2017 changes to 45 C.F.R. § 302.56 (c). The Task Force further clarified that the guidelines worksheet must be completed in all cases where a child support order may be established or modified. A guidelines worksheet is necessary for the Court to determine whether there is a deviation from the presumptive child support order such that findings must be completed. See Section IV.

Principles

In establishing these guidelines, due consideration has been given to the following principles:

  1. promoting parental financial responsibility for children;
  2. meeting the child’s survival needs in the first instance, but, to the extent either parent enjoys a higher standard of living, allowing the child to enjoy that higher standard;
  3. minimizing negative changes to the child’s standard of living;
  4. protecting a basic subsistence level of income of parents;
  5. recognizing that deviations should be used when appropriate to tailor a child support order to the unique circumstances of a particular family;
  6. recognizing that parents should bear any additional expenses resulting from the maintenance of two separate households;
  7. recognizing the non-monetary contributions and involvement of both parents;
  8. recognizing the monetary and/or in-kind contributions of both parents in addition to the child support order;
  9. recognizing the importance, availability, and cost of health care coverage for the child;
  10. promoting simplicity and consistency in establishing and modifying child support orders; and
  11. streamlining administration and minimizing problems of proof.

Commentary

2021

The Task Force considered and discussed each of the principles in this section. The Task Force noted that the principles reflect a wide range of considerations in setting appropriate child support orders. Ultimately, the Task Force did not recommend any changes to this section.

2017

The Task Force refined and reorganized the Principles section for clarification. The Task Force included Principle 5 regarding deviation to highlight that, where appropriate, the Court should deviate from the presumptive child support order amount and that attorneys and litigants should offer reasons as to why a deviation may be warranted. In making this change, the Task Force acknowledged the sentiments expressed by attorneys and litigants that there may be hesitation by the Court to deviate from the presumptive child support order. The Principles section has also been revised to reflect the January 2017 changes to 45 C.F.R. § 302.56 (c) by adding “basic” in Principle 4 of the Principles and changing “health insurance coverage” to “health care coverage” in Principle 9 of the Principles.

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Date published: August 4, 2021
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