Here’s what you should know when working through a child support issue in Massachusetts.
- Who Must Pay Child Support in Massachusetts?
- How is Child Support Determined in Massachusetts?
- Which Agency Handles Child Support in Massachusetts?
- How Do I Ask for Child Support?
- Factors that May Impact Child Support in Massachusetts
- Is Health Insurance Considered a Part of Child Support?
- Establishing Paternity in Massachusetts
- Enforcing Massachusetts Child Support Orders
- Modifying Massachusetts Child Support Payments
- Child Support and Taxes
- When Does Child Support End in Massachusetts?
Who Must Pay Child Support in Massachusetts?
Both parents must support their children in Massachusetts. Typically, only the noncustodial parent makes child support payments to the custodial parent.
The custodial parent is the parent who lives with and has primary care of the child. This parent remains responsible for child support, but the law assumes that a custodial parent spends the required amount directly on the child.
How is Child Support Determined in Massachusetts?
Calculating child support depends on factors that make up the state’s Child Support Guidelines. A court can deviate from the guidelines and adjust the amount of support up or down if a judge determines that it is in the child’s best interest to do so.
The primary factors in the guidelines are the non-custodial parent’s gross weekly income and the number of children to be supported. The court will also consider the children’s unique needs and ages. For example, older children often cost less to support infants and younger children. However, daycare costs, which can be significant, are also considered.
Per the guidelines, a court will also look at all the following issues:
- Relationship to alimony or separate maintenance payments
- Claims of personal exemptions for child dependents
- Minimum and maximum levels
- Parenting time
- Child care costs
- Child support for children between the ages of 18 and 23
- Contribution to post-secondary educational expenses
- Health care coverage
- Dental/vision insurance
- Uninsured medical and dental/vision expenses
- Existing support obligations and responsibility for children not in the case under consideration
- Families with more than 5 children
- Contribution to other child-related expenses
The guidelines also use different calculations depending on how the parents share custody or parenting time. A general formula assumes that the child has a primary residence with one parent and spends roughly one-third of the time with the other parent. If parenting time is less than one-third with the non-residential parent, the court may increase the amount of support.
When the parents divorce and share roughly equal custody and visitation time, each parent must complete the child support worksheet to calculate child support payments. The parent with the lower weekly support amount receives the difference between the two amounts.
For example, if Parent A has a weekly support amount of $500 and Parent B’s weekly support amount is $400, then the difference of $100 is paid by Parent A to Parent B.
Where parents split custody, meaning one child lives with Parent A and a second child lives with Parent B, then the calculations are the same for sharing equal time.
Read More: 132 Co-Parenting Tips for Divorced and Separated Parents
Which Agency Handles Child Support in Massachusetts?
The Massachusetts Department of Revenue, Office of Child Support Enforcement Division (CSE) enforces state and federal child support laws.
Services that CSE provides include:
- Establishing paternity of children born to unmarried couples
- Establish child support cases and modify child and medical support obligations
- Collecting and distributing child support payments
- Enforce child and medical insurance support obligations
- Locating a child’s parents
- Working with child support agencies in other states and countries
You can contact CSE in several ways.
Through the CSE website here.
By logging into your Case Manager account.
Through the Child Support Virtual Counter.
Read More: How to File For Divorce in Massachusetts
How Do I Ask for Child Support?
There are several ways to apply for child support in Massachusetts.
You can apply online. You’ll need to fill out a child support the online application.
Once you’ve applied for services, you can also go online to:
- Access an incomplete saved application
- Check the status of your application
- Cancel your application
- Ask a question or submit a comment.
You can apply by mail using a Child Support Intake Form & Application for Full Child Support Services (paper application).
After you complete the form, send it to:
P.O. Box 7057
Boston, MA 02204-7057
Applications are also available in Spanish:
Formulario de Admisión de Manutención de Menores y Solicitud de Servicios Completos de Manutención de Menores Parte 1
Formulario de Admisión de Manutención de Menores y Solicitud de Servicios Completos de Manutención de Menores Parte 2
You can also apply in person. If you’re completing the form in court on the day your child support order is entered, leave the form at the Register’s Office in the court.
After you submit your application, CSE will create a case and send a letter to you and the other parent explaining the steps the agency will take on your case.
Factors that May Impact Child Support in Massachusetts
Parents can deviate from the guideline order amount by a parent paying more if they agree in writing, but Massachusetts courts will rarely approve an agreement that includes lesser guidelines amounts.
Suppose the court allows a deviation from the guidelines. In that case, it must enter specific written findings that explain why the guideline amount would be unjust or inappropriate, state the specific facts that justify the deviation, and show that the deviation is in the child’s best interest.
Court will look at specific factors when deciding whether a deviation is appropriate, some of which include:
- Parents agree to the deviation, and the court believes it to be fair and reasonable and in the best interests of the child
- A parent or the child has extraordinary mental, physical or developmental needs
- A parent is providing substantially less than 1/3 of the parenting time
- A payor is incarcerated and doesn’t have the resources to pay
- If the guideline order creates a situation where one party is not able to properly support themselves
- A parent has extraordinary travel expenses related to parenting
- The parent has obligations to children from other marriages
- Any other circumstances that will have a significant impact
In cases where there is a determination of additional child-related expenses such as extra-curricular activities, private school, or summer camps that are in the best interest of the child and affordable by the parties, the court may allocate costs to the parties on a case-by-case basis.
Also, the guidelines formula applies to families with one to five children. The order should be at least the amount ordered for five children if there are more than five children.
Courts can also impute income on a parent if they believe voluntary impoverishment is taking place. This means a parent has left their job to avoid paying support. A court will review a parent’s job history, market conditions, skill sets, and other variables to calculate what a parent should pay and then assign that amount.
The court may also consider a new spouse’s income when determining child support levels.
Read More: How Retirement Accounts and Pensions are Divided in a Divorce
Is Health Insurance Considered a Part of Child Support?
The guidelines worksheet adjusts so that the parents share the burden of healthcare costs proportionately. The adjustment involves a two-step calculation. First, a parent paying the health care deducts the out-of-pocket cost from their gross income. Second, the parties share the total health care costs for both parents in proportion to their income available for support. The combined adjustment for child care and health care costs is capped at 15% of the child support order.
The Court determines if health care coverage can be extended to cover the child through an employer or available at a reasonable cost. If health care coverage is available at a reasonable cost, the court will determine if coverage creates an undue hardship on the payor.
These same guidelines also apply to dental and vision insurance as well.
Extraordinary uninsured medical and dental/vision expenses are treated separately.
The support recipient is responsible for paying the first $250 each year in combined routine uninsured medical and dental/vision expenses for all the children covered by this child support order. This can be for illnesses, braces, psychological counseling, or other expenses above routine care.
Read More: How to Choose the Best Health Insurance Plan After Divorce
Establishing Paternity in Massachusetts
Parentage is automatically established if the parents are married when the child is born. But parentage needs to be established if the parents aren’t married when the child is born. There are two ways to establish parentage in Massachusetts. The DOR can assist you with establishing parentage by signing a voluntary acknowledgment form, or you can ask the court to establish parentage.
When both parents agree, they can sign a legal form called a Voluntary Acknowledgment of Parentage, which is filed with the court or Registry of Vital Records and Statistics. If either parent has questions about who is the child’s biological father, genetic DNA testing can resolve the matter one way or the other.
Enforcing Massachusetts Child Support Orders
CSE and family court judges have powerful legal tools to collect payment from parents with past-due child support accounts. Some enforcement tools include:
- Sending an annual Notice of Child Support Delinquency to alert all parents with arrearages of the total amount they owe, including penalties and interest.
- All child support orders include a withholding provision, and CSE sends a withholding order to all employers who’ve hired paying parents.
- When paying parents owe arrearages (past due amounts), CSE will issue a withholding order to the parent’s employer and increase the existing withholding amount to 25% until all arrearages are paid.
- If a parent doesn’t owe ongoing child support payments but still owes arrearages from the past, CSE will take a portion of the parent’s income until the child support paid is up to date.
- Setting up liens on the houses, land, or other property. Parents won’t be able to sell the property or transfer ownership until the liens are removed and the arrearages are paid off.
- CSE will match its records with the records of banks and credit unions doing business inside and outside of Massachusetts. When CSE makes a match, it can levy the paying parent’s bank accounts to collect on arrearages.
- Interception of the paying parent’s state and federal tax returns and lottery winnings.
- When the paying parent has arrearages in excess of $2500, CSE will contact the U.S. State Department, which will automatically deny, revoke, or restrict passports.
- Collecting money from unemployment and worker’s compensation benefits.
- Reporting parents with arrearages to the consumer credit bureaus.
- CSE works with insurance companies to match insurance payouts against paying parents.
- Some public pension payments can be intercepted and applied to the paying parent’s arrearages.
- Suspension of the parent’s driver’s license and motor vehicle registration.
Modifying Massachusetts Child Support Payments
If a child support order has been in place for more than three years, you can request a modification if:
- there is an inconsistency between the amount the parents pay now and what would result from the guidelines
- the health insurance previously ordered is no longer available, or only at an unreasonable cost, or
- any other material and substantial change in circumstances, like the loss of a job or birth of a new child, among other events impacting the parent’s ability to pay support.
If it has been less than three years, then an inconsistency between the current order and the guidelines is not enough. The parent modifying child support must also show a substantial change in circumstances.
If a court deviated from the guidelines in making your initial order. In that case, the reason for the deviation must still exist, and it must still be in the child’s best interest to maintain the deviation when you request the modification.
Parents who agree to a change can file a joint petition for modification of child support judgment. No court hearing will be required, and the court will decide whether to modify the current order based on the parents’ joint petition and supporting documents.
You can watch the CSE Modification Video learn more about Massachusetts child support modifications. YOu can also view a Spanish version at Vea el video sobre la Modificación de Manutención de Menores en Español.
If you ask the court to change your order, the court may make the order higher or lower or may make no change at all.
Read More: The Psychological Effects of Divorce on Children (and How to Help Them Cope)
Child Support and Taxes
Child support payments are not deductible by the payor or taxable to the recipient. Don’t include child support payments received when you calculate your gross income.
However, you may be able to claim the child as a dependent. Generally, the custodial parent is treated as one who provides more than half of the child’s support. In some cases, the noncustodial parent may be treated as the parent who provided more than half of the child’s support.
Many agreements include a provision that each parent declares half the children as dependents when there is an even number of children. Parents can alternate years claiming the child for an odd number of children. In this situation, parents may need to submit Form 8332, Release/Revocation of Release of Claim to Exemption for Child by Custodial Parent, or a similar statement.
When Does Child Support End in Massachusetts?
Unlike many other states, child support in Massachusetts does not automatically end when a child turns 18.
An obligation may continue past the age of 18 if the child is still in high school or when the child graduates from high school if the child is still “principally dependent” on one parent. Principally dependent has been determined to mean that the child continues to live with one parent.
A child is still determined to be “principally dependent” even if they go away to college if they return to a parent’s home during school breaks. The “principally dependent” factor is typically applied to children aged 18-20.
A judge may order child support for a child between 21-23 “if such child is domiciled in the home of a parent, and is principally dependent upon said parent for maintenance due to the enrollment of such child in an educational program, excluding educational costs beyond an undergraduate degree.” This means that if a child is enrolled in an undergraduate program full-time, support may continue beyond the age of 20.
By statute, the Court has discretion either to order or to decline to order a parent to contribute to post-secondary educational expenses. The court will consider the cost of the post-secondary education, the child’s aptitudes, the child’s living situation, the available resources of the parents and child, and the availability of financial aid.
Support can also end before 18 if the child emancipates, gets married, joins the military, or passes away.