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2021 Child Support Guidelines Section IV: Deviation

Section IV of Massachusetts child support guidelines covers deviation from the guidelines.

Table of Contents

A.

The Court, or the parties by agreement approved by the Court, may deviate from these guidelines and overcome the presumptive application of these guidelines, provided the Court enters specific written findings stating:

  1. the amount of the order that would result from application of the guidelines;
  2. that the guidelines amount would be unjust or inappropriate under the circumstances;
  3. the specific facts of the case which justify departure from the guidelines; and
  4. that such departure is consistent with the best interests of the child.

B.

Circumstances which may support deviating, above or below the presumptive guidelines amount, including setting a child support order at $0, are as follows:

  1. the parties agree and the Court determines the agreement to be fair and reasonable and approves their agreement;
  2. a child has ongoing special needs or aptitudes with financial consequences;
  3. a child has ongoing extraordinary mental, physical, or developmental needs with financial consequences;
  4. a parent has ongoing extraordinary mental, physical, or developmental needs with financial consequences;
  5. a parent has extraordinary expenses for health care coverage;
  6. a parent has extraordinary travel or other expenses related to parenting time;
  7. a parent has extraordinary child care costs for the children covered by this order;
  8. a parent provides substantially less than one-third of the parenting time for a child or children;
  9. the payor is incarcerated and has insufficient financial resources to pay support;
  10. application of the guidelines, particularly in low income cases, leaves a parent without the ability to self support;
  11. application of the guidelines would result in a gross disparity in the standard of living between the two households such that one household is left with an unreasonably low percentage of the combined available income;
  12. application of the guidelines may adversely impact reunification of a parent and child where the child has been temporarily removed from the household in accordance with G.L. c. 119; and
  13. absent deviation, application of the guidelines would lead to an order that is unjust, inappropriate or not in the best interests of the child, considering the Principles of these guidelines.

C.

Whenever application of the guidelines requires a payor to pay a recipient more than 40% of the payor’s available income in Line 3a of the guidelines worksheet for a current child support order, there shall be a rebuttable presumption of a substantial hardship, justifying a deviation from the guidelines.

Commentary

2021

The Task Force again emphasized here that in certain circumstances setting a child support order at $0 may be appropriate. The Task Force recommended inserting “time” at the end of Section IV. B. 6. to clarify that the expenses listed were related to parenting time with minor children. The Task Force also recommended amending Section IV. B. 7. to clarify that a deviation may be appropriate where child care costs for the children covered by the child support order are extraordinary.

The Task Force recommended adding Section IV. C. to include a rebuttable presumption of a substantial hardship justifying a deviation where the overall current child support order is more than 40% of the payor’s available income in Line 3a of the guidelines worksheet. In setting this percentage, the Task Force considered the range of marginal percentages in Table A of the guidelines, the amounts resulting from the application of the guidelines across the full range of income combinations, and economic estimates of child costs relative to income levels. A threshold of 40% falls between economic estimates of child costs for one child and two children reported by the Betson-Rothbarth, USDA, and MIT Living Wage studies. The Task Force’s recommendation recognized the need for additional protection in certain limited cases where the child support order would exceed this percentage. The guidelines worksheet in Line 7e indicates whether the current child support order is more than 40% of the payor’s available income.

2017

The Task Force refined and clarified the circumstances where deviation may be appropriate. The Task Force reordered this section for clarification purposes only and not to prioritize any one factor over another. The Task Force emphasized that a deviation may be appropriate for a family and encourages the Court to deviate where circumstances require it.

The Task Force clarified in the first phrase of Section IV. B. that it is permissible to deviate to an amount below the presumptive guidelines amount. Because the deviation circumstances affect an ongoing child support award, rather than a one-time or occasional allocation, the Task Force emphasized that certain circumstances must be ongoing and with financial consequences for them to be considered appropriate for a deviation. In Section IV. B. 8., the Task Force added “substantially” to emphasize as it did it Section II. D. that a parenting plan that is in the best interest of the child is the first step in determining a child support order. The inclusion of “substantially” provides a parameter with the goal of reducing acrimony and litigation between parents regarding the interaction of the parenting plan and the amount of the child support order.

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Date published: August 4, 2021
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