- Probate and Family Court
- Executive Office of the Trial Court
- Massachusetts Court System
Media Contact for Trial Court Issues New Child Support Guidelines
Jennifer Donahue and Erika Gully-Santiago
BOSTON, MA — Trial Court Chief Justice Paula M. Carey today announced the promulgation of revised child support guidelines to be effective on October 4, 2021, based on a comprehensive review by the 2020-2021 Child Support Guidelines Task Force. The Task Force that conducted the review, which is required every four years, was chaired by Probate and Family Court Chief Justice John D. Casey and Hon. Katherine Field.
The child support guidelines are used by Trial Court judges in setting orders for child support, in deciding whether to approve agreements for child support, and in deciding cases that are before the Court to modify existing orders.
“I am very appreciative of the work that this Task Force did in reviewing every facet of the child support guidelines,” said Trial Court Chief Justice Carey. “These guidelines address a number of issues concerning child support and are responsive to the feedback that the Task Force received from judges, attorneys, and the public.”
The Task Force recommended a number of changes. Some changes are minor, while others represent new or modified provisions. The most significant changes are outlined below. Extensive information about all the provisions of the child support guidelines can be found in the commentary that is included in the guidelines.
- The Task Force recommended clarifying language relating to the types of social security payments that are considered income when calculating child support. In addition to changes to the text of the guidelines, the Task Force recommended changes to the guidelines worksheet to help parties calculate child support when there is a social security dependency benefit involved in the case, in accordance with Rosenberg v. Merida, 428 Mass. 182 (1998) and Schmidt v. McCulloch-Schmidt, 86 Mass. App. Ct. 902 (2014).
- The Task Force recommended including text to highlight the recent Appeals Court decision of Calvin C. v. Amelia A., 99 Mass. App. Ct. 714 (2021). The decision reflects that there are occasions when alimony from a person who is a party to the child support order should be included as income to the recipient and deducted by the payor when calculating child support. Because there are occasions when the alimony would not be included as income, the Task Force recommended addressing the case in the catchall income provision of Section I. A. 30.
- Consistent with federal requirements, the Task Force examined self-support levels for payors and recommended creating two tranches at the minimum level in Table A of the guidelines worksheet for payors with income up to $249 per week, to include all payors with incomes below the 2021 U.S. Federal Poverty Guidelines. The presumptive orders will range from $12 to $20 per week. The Task Force emphasized that the Court may still deviate to a higher or lower order, including entering a child support order of $0.
- The Task Force recommended increasing the maximum level to $400,000 of combined available income, as the maximum level has not been increased since 2009. The Task Force recommended six tranches between $250 and $7,692 in weekly combined available income, for a total of eight tranches.
- The Task Force recommended eliminating both the deduction of child care costs paid from the parent’s gross income and the 15% cap on the child care credit from the 2017/2018 guidelines in Section II. E. 1. The Task Force recommended that parents share the actual costs of child care paid in proportion to their income, up to a benchmark amount of $355 per child, per week. In making its recommendations, the Task Force acknowledged that these changes may significantly increase child support orders. Judges should continue to consider deviation where appropriate, especially where the overall current child support order is more than 40% of the payor’s available income as listed in Line 3a of the guidelines worksheet. This situation is addressed in Section IV. C. of the guidelines. To assist judges, attorneys, and parties, Line 7e of the guidelines worksheet indicates whether the support order is more than 40% of the payor’s available income.
- The Task Force recommended amending Section II. H. in its entirety to reflect the many statutory changes relating to health care coverage that occurred in July 2019. The Task Force recommended eliminating the 15% cap on the health care credit that was included in the 2017/2018 guidelines by striking the previous Section II. H. 1. b. Although parties will not receive a credit for health care costs paid, parties will still be allowed to deduct certain health care costs actually paid.
- The Task Force recommended increasing the adjustment factors in Table B of the guidelines worksheet when calculating child support for more than one child. Based on a combination of economic data and policy considerations, the incremental cost for each additional child was increased to 40% for two children, 20% for three children, 10% for four children, and 5% for five children. As a result of the increases to the incremental cost for each additional child, the adjustment factors in Table B of the guidelines worksheet were changed to: 1.4 for two children, 1.68 for three children, 1.85 for four children, and 1.94 for five children.
- 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. The Task Force’s recommendation recognizes 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.
- The Task Force recommended revising the Child Support Guidelines Worksheet to incorporate its recommendations. Users of the Child Support Guidelines Worksheet are strongly encouraged to use the electronic version of the Child Support Guidelines Worksheet for easier completion. The only official electronic version of the guidelines and the Child Support Guidelines Worksheet are the versions found on the Court’s website.
In addition to Chief Justice Casey and Judge Field, the 2020-2021 Task Force included: Kara Carey, Esq., David Friedman, Esq., Fern Frolin, Esq., Lisa Greenberg, Esq., Christopher Hercun, Peter Kajko, Esq., Hon. Robert Langlois (ret.), Dolores O’Neill, Esq., Anna Richardson, Esq., Jamie Sabino, Esq., Kimberlie Sweet, Esq., Amanda Vanderhorst, Esq., Patrick Yoyo, Esq. and Kelly Zawistowski, Esq. The economic consultant for this Task Force was The Brattle Group, led by Mark Sarro, Ph.D., with Christine Polek, Ph.D., Shastri Sandy, Ph.D., M.B.A., and Tessie McGough. The Task Force was supported by Project Manager Denise M. Fitzgerald, Esq. of the Probate and Family Court and Robert Dunphy, Jr., Esq. of the Legal Department of the Executive Office of the Trial Court.
Additional information on the quadrennial review of the child support guidelines can be found on the Court’s website.