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Massachusetts child support: What every parent needs to know

Courts use the state’s guidelines to establish child support awards, which ensure that both parents fulfill their financial obligations toward their child.

As most parents know, raising a child can be a rewarding, as well as an expensive, undertaking. Often, both parents bear the financial responsibility of providing for their children, and their needs. When children do not live with one or both of their parents, family law court judges in Massachusetts, and elsewhere, may order child support awards. Generally, the purpose of these payments is to ensure that custodial parents, as well as non-custodial parents, fulfill their financial obligations as parents.

Child support guidelines

The state of Massachusetts has adopted a set of guidelines, which are used to determine the amounts of child support orders in the state. Family law courts use the formula stipulated in these guidelines to determine fair and reasonable payment amounts. The formula is based on the assumption that a child resides primarily with one parent and spends approximately one third of his or her time with the other parent. It accounts for a number of factors, including each parent's gross income, the number of children the couple has and the couple's child-related expenses. State law also allows the court to consider whether the parent who is ordered to pay child support is already making payments for other children.

Departing from the state's guidelines

Sometimes, there are situations that warrant deviations from Massachusetts' child support guidelines. There are a number of factors, which may contribute to departures from the state's guidelines, including the following:

  • The parents have agreed on another amount, which is approved by the court
  • The child has special needs or extraordinary medical expenses
  • Applying the guidelines would leave the parent ordered to pay unable to support his or herself
  • The parent ordered to pay support is incarcerated and does not have the financial resources to make his or her payments
  • Applying the guidelines would cause a significant incongruence in the standard of living between each parent's households
  • The parent ordered to pay has exceptionally high travel or other parenting-related expense

It is at the discretion of the court to decide whether to order above or below what is suggested by the guidelines. When such deviations occur, the court must enter written findings stating the amount of the orders based on the guidelines, that the guidelines' amounts would be unjust or inappropriate, the facts that justify departures from the guidelines and that the deviations would be in the children's best interests.

Enforcing support orders

According to the Massachusetts Department of Revenue, all child support orders include income withholding provisions. In some cases, however, parents still may not pay. The Massachusetts Department of Revenue's Child Support Enforcement Division has the authority to enforce support orders when people fall into arrears.

There are a number of actions, which the division may take to encourage parents to pay. These options include issuing income or bank levies, administrative increases of parents' support obligations, federal administrative offsets, tax refund intercepts, passport denials, driver's license suspensions and revocation parents' motor vehicle registrations, among others.

Obtain legal counsel

Due to the number of considerations that go into establishing child support orders in Massachusetts, the process can be complicated for some parents. As such, parents who are seeking support, or who may be ordered to make payments, may benefit from working with an attorney. A legal representative may explain the state's guidelines and help them understand what to expect, as well as address any concerns they may have.

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