Mediating Modifications Under the New Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines

Massachusetts Child SupportAs of August 1, 2013, Massachusetts will have new guidelines for calculating child support payments for the first time since 2009. There are many clarifications and changes. Some are minor, while others represent new or modified provisions. At the same time, based on a decision by the Supreme Judicial Court in Morales v. Morales, the standard for obtaining modifications of child support orders has been clarified to allow for changes “if there is an inconsistency between the amount of the existing order and the amount would result from the application of the child support guidelines.”  Some earlier cases had held modifications to a higher standard of whether there is a “material and substantial change,” as in certain other aspects of the law.

As a result, after August 1, we can expect the court to be flooded with requests for modifications. Many payors and payees of child support will recalculate their payments under the new Guidelines to see if they would pay more or receive more, and many will want a modification if the difference is significant enough to make the effort worthwhile.

In a number of cases, the new guidelines will result in lower payments. For instance, in attribution of income cases, availability of employment at the triggered income level must be considered. The court has flexibility to consider all, some or none of the income from secondary jobs or overtime, regardless of whether this is new income or was historically earned prior to dissolution of the relationship. There is a new formula for calculating child support if parenting time and expenditures deviate from the two-thirds/one-third assumption under the 2009 Guidelines. There is now more guidance for circumstances in which the child is over age 18, including cases in which college expense is a factor. The Guidelines add additional circumstances that justify deviation from standard calculation, including extraordinary health insurance expenses and child care costs that are not proportionate to income. On top of all this, the formulas – the numbers –have changed slightly based on differences between current cost of living in Massachusetts and that in 2009.

Whenever the Guidelines change, many people who will receive lower payments find the change is unfair, while their sense of unfairness will be balanced by a sense of fairness from many of those paying child support. Similarly, many of those paying child support who find their bills have increased will also be resistant to change.  Nonetheless, the guidelines are what they are, and divorced parents should consider how best to achieve a modification that will likely happen anyway, preserving as many of their collective assets as possible for the benefit of the children.  For many, mediation is a significantly faster and less expensive route to try to reach agreement then filing a motion for modification, waiting until the court has time to hear it and conducting a formal battle with an ex-spouse.