If you have children and are planning a divorce or break up, or are currently going through the process then child support will most likely be a hot button topic. So how is child support actually calculated in Massachusetts?  Child support calculations are based on Child Support Guidelines (check out the actual guidelines here). These guidelines take into consideration many factors like income, age of the child/ren, health insurance costs, parenting time, and other support obligations paid. These numbers are then put into a calculator (which can be found here) to come up with a support number (called the presumptive support order). For the most part, the court will adopt the presumptive support order BUT in some circumstances, the judge may deviate from the guidelines.

In order to understand child support calculations better, let’s look closer at some of the factors the court considers:

  • Income-first and foremost, child support is based on your gross income (that is the base amount of money you make before taxes and expenses are taken out) and the income of your soon to be ex-partner. At the start of the case, both parents are required to submit a financial statement, recent paystub, and W-2 that outlines income, expenses, assets, and debt. If you or your ex is self-employed, determining an accurate gross income can be trickier and you may have to supply discovery (personal and business tax returns, bank statements etcetera) to prove your income.
  • Child Care Costs– if you or your ex-partner have expenses related to the care of your child/ren, the amount you pay can be factored into the calculation. Keep in mind these are expenses you actually pay. You may have to provide proof of this expense if requested.
  • Medical Insurance Costs– if you carry the health, dental, or vision insurance policy for yourself and/or your family, that cost will be factored into the guidelines. You will not get a dollar for dollar credit (if you spend $80/week on health insurance, the support obligation will not be $80 less) but it will affect the presumptive support order.
  • Other Support Obligations– if you or your ex have a child or children from another relationship and there is a court-ordered support obligation for that child/ren, that amount can be factored into the calculation. That is true of voluntary child support payments (payments made without a court order) for another child/ren but the judge must determine those payments are reasonable.

In addition to the above, the structure of parenting time/custody for the parents is a significant component of the child support puzzle. The Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines calculate child support factoring 3 possible custody scenarios. The first assumes one parent has the child/ren 2/3 of the time with the non-custodial parent having the child/ren 1/3 of the time. The second assumes a 50/50 split where both parents essentially split equally the week with the child/ren. The third assumes the non-custodial parent has parenting time less than 1/3 of the time.

In essence, the guidelines establish credit for each parent based on the amount of time that they are financially responsible for the children. When one of the parents has sole physical and legal custody of the child/ren and the other parent only sees the children once per week for a non-sleepover visit that factors in greatly.  So what happens in regards to child support if both parents are currently sharing financial responsibility on an equal level, and share both physical and legal custody?

This is where a great deal of misconceptions comes into play. Many clients I speak with are under the false impression that neither parent will receive child support, that’s not always the case. While the equal amount of time spent with each parent certainly factors into the equation, the court must also consider additional factors such as income, health care, and childcare expenses. For example, even if both parents are currently splitting the bills equally, the parent who actually earns more income will typically be required to pay child support to the other parent.

Figuring out child support can be complex and frustrating. Contact me for an in-depth analysis of your situation today.