Family Law Update: 2017 Child Support Guidelines

The long-anticipated updates to the Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines were issued recently and, of course, are the source of much discussion among family law attorneys. A link to the 2017 Guidelines, which become effective September 15, 2017, can be found here.

The most significant language is summarized below.

  1. The minimum amount of child support to be paid by a parent increased to $25/week.
  2. The new Guidelines weigh more heavily the costs of health and child care in the child support calculation so that the “parents share the burden of [these] costs proportionately.” This change suggests that the authors appreciate the significant costs incurred by health and child care and that these costs have increased exponentially in recent years.
  3. With regard to parenting time, the new Guidelines eliminate the “hybrid calculation” for parenting time that falls between 33 and 50%. Instead, the 2017 Task Force comments that deviations are appropriate to “tailor a child support order to the unique circumstances of a particular family.” This language should have the effect of minimizing the practice of “hours counting” by parents. Furthermore, it seems to give the Court even more discretion with regard to calculating the appropriate amount of child support to be paid in light of each family’s circumstances, including the specific parenting plan practiced by a party. It seems the Task Force is recognizing that there are not only a few options regarding parenting plans, but, rather, families may create plans specific to their own needs and said plans should be considered by the Court in calculating a suitable amount of child support.
  4. The Task Force renamed, reorganized and refined the section previously entitled, “Unreported Income” to focus on issues related to the imputation of income. Income may be imputed when there are actual resources available to the parent that are not reported for tax purposes. In general terms, undocumented income is income that does not result in the issuance of a tax reporting form. Unreported income is any income that is received and required to be reported that the taxpayer does not report on his or her taxes.
  5. Since the issuance of the 2013 Guidelines, treatment of “college aged” children has been a “gray” area and judges’ approaches varied with regard to how to calculate support for this population. The 2017 guidelines include a 25% reduction in the amount of child support attributable to a child over age 18.
  6. Also clearing up some ambivalence is the section regarding allocation of college expenses. The 2017 Guidelines articulate factors the court should consider prior to ordering a parent to contribute to college expenses and provides a general cap on a parent’s contribution at 50% of the in-state costs of UMass – Amherst. The Guidelines also very broadly comment that the child support and college costs required of a party should be considered in light of one another. Presumably, this provides the Court with discretion to reduce a parent’s support or child payment obligation in light of the total amount of support and college costs to be paid by him/her.
  7. Regarding support obligations and responsibility for children not in the case under consideration, the Guidelines provide helpful language that “voluntary payments” actually paid to support a child not in the case under consideration and with whom the parent does not reside shall be deducted from the gross income of that parent, but only to the extent the Court determines the payments to be reasonable. The parent seeking the deduction has the burden to prove the legal obligation to support the child and the actual payments made.

The current Guidelines include numerous comments and notes. Of significance, the Guidelines acknowledge the benefit of unallocated support in reducing the overall tax burden and they recommend parties consider this as an alternative to child support.
Child support issues are very complex, and although the new Guidelines include helpful changes, you should consider consulting with an experienced family law attorney to help you understand if the new Guidelines will affect your child support payments. Call Levine-Piro Law, P.C. to set up a consultation.