Understanding Child Support in Massachusetts

Divorce cases involving children often require a court decision regarding which parent should have physical and/or legal responsibility. Whether granted joint or sole custody, physical custody designates where the child will actually live. The parent who the child resides with most of the time is considered the custodial parent.

The non-custodial parent may be required to provide for a child or children in the form of child support, which is paid to the custodial parent. Strict guidelines are used by the court to determine the amount of child support to be paid.

How Child Support is Determined
Both parents’ income and expenses are used to establish how child support is determined and paid. Child Support Guidelines are applied to all child support orders and judgments to be used by the justices of the Trial Court.

Many considerations were taken into account when establishing Child Support Guidelines, including parental financial responsibility, the child’s survival needs, minimizing negative changes to the child’s standard of living, and protecting each parent’s basic level of income. The guidelines also recognize parents face additional expenses of maintaining two separate households. As a result, non-monetary contributions and involvement of both parents, as well as monetary contributions, are considered. Finally, the importance, availability, and cost of health care coverage for the child is also a significant contributor to the Child Support Guidelines.

The Child Support Guidelines Worksheet
Judges use the Child Support Guidelines Worksheet to figure out how much child support to order. The Worksheet is used to calculate the amount of income from each parent and basic needs of the child/children.

When completing the Worksheet, income and expense information is needed from both parents.
The parent who will receive child support payments is called the “Recipient,” and the parent who pays the child support is called the “Payor.” The minimum child support order is $25 per week. Additionally, the judge will need to know the number and ages of children covered by the order.

How to Get a Child Support Order
To begin the process of receiving child support, the custodial parent files a written request through the local Probate and Family Court.

When filing for divorce, if you or your spouse reside in the county where you last lived together, the written request for support is filed there. If neither party resides in the county where you last lived together, you can file in either location where you or your spouse currently reside.

Before filing a Complaint for Support, paternity must be legally established for parents who were never married. This can be done through a voluntary acknowledgment of paternity, or the court can be petitioned for a Complaint to Establish Paternity in the county where the child lives.

How Child Support Payments are Made
Once child support is determined and legally ordered, payments are paid directly to the custodial parent or to the Department of Revenue (DOR) through a wage assignment. The amount ordered is removed from the non-custodial parent’s wages by their employer and sent directly to the DOR, who sends it to the custodial parent.

Understanding the child support process and guidelines for Massachusetts can be a daunting task. Our legal experts can help if you need assistance in establishing, enforcing, or changing a child support order. Please contact us today to schedule a consultation and discuss your options.

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