Massachusetts law regarding child support is designed to ensure that divorcing parents continue to provide financial support for their children. Judges use Massachusetts’ child support guidelines to calculate a fair child support amount and then incorporate that amount into a family’s divorce decree. When circumstances change, Massachusetts permits parents to ask the court to modify their previous support order.
Child Support Amount
Though both parents owe financial support to their children, a noncustodial parent typically pays monetary child support to the custodial parent. Massachusetts courts determine the amount the noncustodial parent will pay by combining the incomes of both spouses and applying that combined amount to child support tables to determine a total support obligation. This is the amount Massachusetts expects both parents to pay together. The court assigns a certain portion of that support to the noncustodial parent in proportion to his share of the spouses’ combined income. For example, if the noncustodial parent earns 60 percent of both spouses’ combined income, he pays 60 percent of the total support obligation.
Paying Child Support
Typically, noncustodial parents do not pay support directly to the custodial parent. Instead, courts include income withholding orders, called wage assignment, in their child support orders. Such income withholding orders direct the noncustodial parent’s employer to withhold the amount of child support from the noncustodial parent’s paycheck and send the money to the Child Support Enforcement Division of the Massachusetts Department of Revenue. If the noncustodial parent is self-employed, he pays child support directly to the Child Support Enforcement Division, who then sends that money to the custodial parent.
If the noncustodial parent fails to pay support as ordered, the Child Support Enforcement Division has several options to enforce the support order. These options include increasing the noncustodial parent’s income withholding by 25 percent, placing liens on property, seizing bank accounts or other financial assets and suspending the noncustodial parent’s driver’s license and professional licenses. Additionally, the court could hold the noncustodial parent in contempt and criminally prosecute him.
Modifying Child Support
If a family’s circumstances change after the divorce, a Massachusetts court can modify the order if the existing order is at least three years old, health insurance that was previously available is now unavailable or too expensive, health insurance that was not previously available is now available at a reasonable cost, or there has been another material change in circumstances. Parents must ask the court for modification, and the noncustodial parent must continue paying as instructed in the existing order until the modification is granted.