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Massachusetts Child Support

UPDATED: July 6, 2018

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Child support in Massachusetts is available to a parent or guardian of a minor child when one or both parents lives separately from the child. In the state of Massachusetts, the Child Support Enforcement Division helps parents to prove paternity, get a court order for child support, and enforce existing court orders. Parents may also apply to the court for child support directly, or as part of a legal divorce agreement.  

Obtaining Child Support in Massachusetts

Parents who wish to obtain child support in the state of Massachusetts may visit their local Child Support Enforcement Agency (CSE). The CSE is a division of the Massachusetts Department of Revenue, and their website contains a list of local offices and phone numbers for parents to use. 

The CSE does not provide legal advice to parents, and will not become involved in child custody disputes or divorce cases. They will, however, help parents seeking support to obtain a court order for a paternity test. The CSE can also petition the court to issue an order of support. CSE will petition the court for an order of support only after conducting a preliminary review of the application to determine what is available and appropriate in the particular case.

Once either a parent or CSE petitions the court for an order of child support, the court will review the information provided and will make a determination on the support obligation by using uniform guidelines that apply throughout the state of Massachusetts.

How is Child Support Calculated?

Massachusetts changed its child support guidelines recently, with the new policy effective after January 1, 2009. Under the new Massachusetts' guidelines, the courts look at the combined income of both parents in order to determine the total basic support obligation (the total amount of money that the parents should be spending to meet the child's basic needs each month). This is a change from previous guidelines where the income of the parent paying support was the primary factor in determining support.  

Today, the first step in the process of determining child support is to add up all income made by both parents, including income from military benefits or businesses. Next, any money paid out in actual expenses for the care of the child (such as medical expenses) is subtracted, as is any money paid to children or former spouses under pre-existing support orders.  

A table is then used to decide how much the child is entitled to for general support, based on the combined income amount available to both parents. This amount is then adjusted upwards if there is more than one child.  

Each parent then becomes responsible for paying medical costs, child care costs and a percentage of basic support. The appropriate percentage each parent is responsible for is based on what percent of the total family income he contributes. A parent who contributes 40 percent of the total family income, therefore, would pay a 40 percent share of the total support costs for the child. This amount would be reduced if the parent spent some time with the child, because it would be assumed the parent would be paying for the child's care during custodial periods.

Enforcing Child Support

The Child Support Enforcement Division assists in collecting and distributing support payments, which are routinely collected through wage attachment, which is a process by which the money is taken right out of the paying parent's paycheck.

When a parent fails to pay as required, the CSE can take various actions to enforce a child support order, including seizing the non-paying parent's tax refunds. Driver's license suspension and even federal criminal prosecution are additional actions that can be taken to collect delinquent support.

Modifying Child Support

Child support orders can be reviewed every three years, or in the event there is a material change in circumstances that necessitates a change. Either parent may request that the court modify a support order, or may go through CSE first to request a modification. If CSE reviews the case and determines that the support order should be changed, then CSE can petition the court directly for the change.

Again, CSE does not act as a lawyer to the parents or provide any type of legal advice in enforcement actions, just as they do not provide legal advice to parents seeking an initial court order of support. As such, parents who wish to take steps to protect their legal rights during the child support process should consider consulting with a private attorney who specializes in family law cases. 

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