Posts Tagged ‘Child Support Guidelines’

child supportMost states have child support guidelines. These are formulas that the courts of a particular state will use to determine a child support amount. While the elements of the formula will vary by state, the most important factors are the incomes of the parties and number of children. The formulas will usually also include some type of adjustment for health insurance, child care costs and sometimes other expenses.

Judges are usually empowered with discretion to vary from these formulas. Depending upon the particular judge and jurisdiction, this may or may not happen. If you think that your particular situation merits a variance from the formula amount, you should thoroughly discuss the matter with your attorney and decide whether it is worthwhile to present your arguments to the Court. While the Court may not grant your entire request, the Judge may make some type of favorable adjustment to the amount indicated by the formula.

Common arguments to vary child support from state child support guidelines include tax issues, unreported income, large and unusual business expenses, prior child support orders, large and unusual personal expenses of a parent, children’s educational expenses, time spent at college, health and medical issues, other ways in which the non-custodial parent is supporting the child(ren), the amount of time the child(ren) are in the care of a particular parent, unusual travel expenses for visitation with the children, imputation of income; and the interplay of alimony and child support. Judges also usually have the discretion to determine who can claim any income tax exemptions and/or tax credits associated with the children (or at least adjust the child support amount to compensate for these exemptions and/or tax credits).

An experienced divorce attorney will be able to evaluate your particular situation, tell you the particular tendenices of an individual judge and determine what types of arguments might be favorably received by the Court.

custody rights of same sex couplesAs marriage equality continues to proceed in the USA, and especially here in Massachusetts, the first state to legalize same sex in the nation, many issues previously considered only as mother/father, heterosexual in nature now must be considered from the perspective of same sex couples. This came to light as regards the custody of a non-biological, same sex parent in the case of Della Corte v. Ramirez a little over two years ago. In this case, the biological mother, Gabriella Della Corte, argued that her ex-spouse had no parental or custodial rights because she was not the father of the child, who was born through artificial insemination. Angelica Ramirez, her spouse, argued that she indeed was the parent of the child and should be granted custody.

The court found in favor of Ramirez, granting her joint custody of the child, stating in their ruling that Ramirez was the legal parent of the minor child. This sets a precedent in Massachusetts, establishing that as regards paternity, custody, and visitation, there is and should be no difference between heterosexual and same sex parents. This follows Massachusetts law that, regardless of gender, marriage carries the same rights for both parties. Therefore all laws which reference “husbands” or “wives” to be interpreted simply as “spouses,” and that Massachusetts family court proceedings should make no distinction based upon the gender of the parties, but rather paternity, custodial, and visitation rulings should solely reflect the best interests of the children involved.

Federal IV-D regulations require uniform child support guidelines of every state, and 45 C.F.R. § 302.56 further requires that each state review those guidelines every four years. The Massachusetts Trial Court’s revised Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines, effective August 1, 2013, were recently announced and are available online at the Massachusetts Department of Revenue’s website, as well as the Child Support Guidelines Worksheet. They are also available on my website: Guidelines and Worksheet.

According to the Massachusetts Trial Court’s press release dated June 20, 2013, Chief Justice of the Trial Court Robert A. Mulligan stated that the revised Child Support Guidelines were based on the comprehensive review by the Child Support Guidelines Task Force he appointed in 2012. Probate and Family Court Chief Justice Paula M. Carey chaired the Task Force that conducted the review. Trial Court judges use the Child Support Guidelines “in setting temporary, permanent or final orders for current child support; in deciding whether to approve agreements for child support, and in deciding cases that are before the court to modify existing orders.”

Summary of Key Changes to the Existing Guidelines

The 2012 Child Support Guidelines Task Force recommended a number of clarifications and changes. Some are minor, while others represent new or modified provisions. The most significant include:
While the 2012 Child Support Guidelines Task Force recommended a number of both minor and new or modified provisions, the most significant changes include the following items (list quoted from the Trail Court press release):

  • Income from means tested benefits such as SSI, TAFDC, and SNAP are excluded for both parties from the calculation of their support obligations.
  • Availability of employment at the attributed income level must be considered in attribution of income cases.
  • The text makes clear that all, some, or none of income from secondary jobs or overtime may be considered by the court, regardless of whether this is new income or was historically earned prior to dissolution of the relationship.
  • Reference is made to the 2011 Alimony Reform Act; the text does not, however, provide a specific formula or approach for calculating alimony and child support in cases where both may be appropriate.
  • Clarification is given as to how child support should be allocated between the parents where their combined income exceeds $250,000.
  • A new formula is provided for calculating support where parenting time and expenditures are less than equal (50/50) but more than the assumed standard split of two thirds/one third.
  • Guidance and clarification is given in the area of child support over the age of eighteen where appropriate. While the Guidelines apply, the court may consider a child’s living arrangements and post- secondary education. Contribution to post-secondary education may be ordered after consideration of several factors set forth in the Guidelines and such contribution must be considered in setting the weekly support order, if any.
  • The standard for modification is clarified to reflect the recent Supreme Judicial Court decision in Morales v. Morales, 464 Mass. 507 (2013).
  • Circumstances justifying a deviation are expanded to include extraordinary health insurance expenses, child care costs that are disproportionate to income or when a parent is providing less than one-third parenting time.

Questions concerning these changes or any provisions of the Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines should be discussed with an experience divorce attorney.

We all know that divorce is one of the hardest experiences in life, especially for young children who cannot understand why mommy and daddy are suddenly separated and their family life torn asunder. There are altogether too few resources to help children adjust to these drastic changes, although more are appearing each year. Sesame Street now offers a Divorce Toolkit for Parents and Children which may provide some valuable assistance for you and your young family,entitled Little Children, Big Challenges: Divorce.

The Toolkit includes components for Caregivers and Families, a Storybook, Songs, Downloads, and Videos. You might want to review these components yourself or with your spouse before presenting them to the kids. Simple activities such as a divorce coloring book can help your children adjust in this trying time.

There are generally two types of child custody — legal custody and physical custody. Legal custody refers to whomever makes major life decisions for the child (usually health, educational and religious decisions, although is is important to note that that, without the prior permission of the other parent or court, even a parent with sole legal custody can’t remove the child from Massachusetts permanently). Physical custody refers to whomever has the child “physically” on a day-to-day basis. One issue that frequently arises is that of joint physical custody, where custody of the child is shared by both parents. This involves many aspects, such as visitation vs parenting plans and whether joint physical custody is beneficial or detrimental to the child.

Commonly, both parents will seek sole physical custody during a separation or divorce, and the court must decide what is in the best interest of the children. A compromise solution would be for the parents to settle for joint physical custody, which typically means the child will spend an equal time with each parent, perhaps several weeks or months at a time with each parent. The pro argument goes that this is beneficial for the child because the child gets to spend equal time with each parent, thereby receiving more balanced nurturing. However, the con argument is that this is ultimately detrimental and disruptive to the child’s well-being, as the child never has the opportunity to settle into a single home with either parent, but is constantly shuttled back and forth, thereby having no sense of stability in his or her young life. Thus the court must decide in favor of what is in the best interest of the child.

Generally, the court will seek to keep siblings together and assign sole custody to one “custodial” parent, with visitation rights extended to the other, “noncustodial” parent, or the modern version of “a parently plan.” These rights may include the child spending several hours, weekends or some vacation time with the noncustodial parent. If there is any concern over the child’s safety with the noncustodial parent, supervised visitation may be ordered.

Massachusetts child custody laws allow shared physical custody, or co-parenting if the co-parents can arrive at a mutual agreement outside of court to continue to raise their child together with some type of joint physical custody arrangement. This arrangement must be submitted in detail to the court for review, at which point the court may approve the co-parenting plan as submitted, or modify the plan prior to approval. The details included in the co-parenting plan cover issues such as how custodial time will be split between the co-parents and how expenses will be split. If the co-parents are not able to reach an agreement on a custody the Massachusetts child custody laws and courts will determine issues of custody, visitation, and support in accordance with the best interests of the child.

The information contained in this blog is for educational purposes only and is not legal advice. The use of this Blog does not create an attorney/client relationship between you and the Law Offices of Barry R. Lewis. If you are considering divorce or if you are involved in any legal matter, you should hire an attorney.

Massachusetts Divorce and Family Law
Attorney Barry R. Lewis — Divorce Law Specialist
Locations Throughout Eastern & Central Massachusetts :: 508-879-3262