Massachusetts law about modifications of family law judgments and orders

A compilation of laws, regulations, cases and web sources on changing divorce, child custody, child support and other family law judgments and orders by the Trial Court Law Libraries.

If you are unable to find the information you are looking for, or if you have a specific question, please contact our law librarians for assistance.

Table of Contents

Best bet

Family law advocacy for low and moderate income litigants, 3d ed., 2018. Mass. Legal Services. 
Chapter 16 addresses modification proceedings. Online version of great book includes checklists, sample agreements and forms and so much more. Despite the title, those in all income brackets will find it useful. Best online source.

Massachusetts laws

MGL c.119A, § 13 Limits on retroactive modification

MGL c.208, § 28 Modification of Massachusetts judgments concerning care, custody and maintenance of children

MGL c. 208, § 28A Temporary orders concerning care, custody and maintenance of children when modification is pending

MGL c. 208, § 29 Modification of foreign judgments concerning care, custody and maintenance of children

MGL c. 208, § 37 Modification of Massachusetts and foreign alimony judgments

MGL c. 209D, §§ 6-601-6-612 Uniform Interstate Family Support Act - enforcement and modification of support order after registration

Court rules

Mass. R. Dom. Rel P. 60 Mistakes
Modification of orders and judgments that can be obtained by filing a motion (as opposed to filing a complaint for modification).

Supplemental Probate and Family Court Rule 412 Uncontested actions to modify a judgment or order

Selected Massachusetts cases

Ardizoni v. Raymond, 40 Mass. App. Ct. 734 (1996)
The standard for modification of child custody/visitation is a material and substantial change of circumstances since the prior judgment was entered and the desired change of child custody/visitation is in the child's best interest.

Barnes v. Devlin, 84 Mass. App. Ct. 159 (2013)
A father could not unilaterally stop paying child support under an agreed-upon separation agreement, where he argued that the conditions do not comply with MGL c.208, § 28. His "proper recourse, as the judge stated, would have been to initiate appropriate modification proceedings, as opposed to unilaterally stopping payments."

Cabot v. Cabot, 55 Mass. App. Ct. 756 (2002)
If an incorporated separation agreement or a divorce judgment fails to provide for a child's education, a modification complaint may be brought on the ground that the educational costs are a material and substantial change of circumstances.

Calabria v. Calabria, 91 Mass. App. Ct. 763 (2017)
“In the circumstances of this case, in which the parties expressly provided for retroactive adjustment of child support in their separation agreement, and where the adjustment fosters the best interest of the couple's minor child and does not derogate (deviate) from the purposes of G. L. c. 119A, § 13, such a retroactive award was within the judge's equitable authority.”

Cavanagh  v. Cavanagh, 490 Mass. 398 (2022)
Alimony Reform Act does not prohibit an award of alimony when child support has been ordered, interpreting G.L. c.208, § 53(c)(2).

Feinstein v. Feinstein, 95 Mass. App. Ct. 230 (2019)
In this case, the Appeals Court found: “A probate Court has the power to modify a child support order in the context of either a complaint for contempt or a complaint for modification.  A modification on a complaint for contempt may occur even in the absence of a contempt finding.”

Malachi M. v. Quintina Q., 483 Mass. 725 (2019)
"In a proceeding to modify a child custody decision, the judge must consider evidence of domestic abuse that occurred before the entry of the divorce judgment."

Morales v. Morales, 464 Mass. 507 (2013)
"We conclude that the trial judge ... erred in applying a standard requiring a material and substantial change in circumstances (material and substantial change standard) rather than the standard set forth in G. L. c. 208, § 28... which provides that a child support order shall be modified 'if there is an inconsistency between the amount of the existing order and the amount that would result from application of the child support guidelines'. (inconsistency standard)."

Smith v. Edelman, 68 Mass. App. Ct. 549 (2007)
"A substantial post-divorce increase in the income of the noncustodial parent did not [warrant] an increase in child support, where the children's needs were well met and where there was no material disparity in the standards of living between the custodial and noncustodial households." “The goal of maintaining the standard of living of the family as though it had remained intact is not without limit; an increase in child support based solely on an increase in income of the noncustodial spouse may have the effect of constructively distributing the noncustodial parent’s estate, and is accordingly disfavored.”

Whelan vs. Whelan, 74 Mass. App. Ct. 616 (2009)
A “judge must determine whether claimed business deductions are reasonable and necessary to the production of income, without regard to whether those deductions may be claimed for Federal or State income tax purposes.”


Web sources

Changing a judgment or order by agreement, MassLegalHelp, November, 2019.
Includes forms and information needed to pursue a Joint Petition for Modification.

File changes to child support if both parties agree to the change, Mass. Trial Court.
Provides instructions and links to required forms to use when both parents agree.

File to change your child support if only one person wants the change, Mass. Trial Court. 
Provides instructions and links to required forms to use when only one parent wants the change.

How to make changes to your court order, Mass. Dept. of Revenue.
Provides instructions and links to required forms to use when you are a DOR customer. "If you are a Department of Revenue Child Support Enforcement Division (DOR) customer and your youngest child is under the age of 17 ½ , we can assist you in going to court to ask for a modification of your child support order." Site discusses how to modify and gives instructions on how to fill out the form, offers a sample, and provides the DOR copy of the Modification form.

Print sources

Family law and practice: with forms, 4th ed. (Mass Practice vols.1-3), Thomson Reuters, 2013 with supplement. Chapters 8, 50 and 90.

LexisNexis practice guide: Massachusetts family law, LexisNexis annual, Chapter 7.36: Modifying child support orders and agreements.

Massachusetts divorce law practice manual, 4th ed., MCLE, loose-leaf, Chapter 20: Modification.

Massachusetts domestic relations, LexisNexis, 2012 with supplements. Chapter 20: Modifications.

Modification and contempt proceedings in divorce cases, MCLE, 2013.


Last updated: October 14, 2022