What is child support?
Child support is a payment from one parent to the other parent for the benefit of a child.
Who has to pay child support?
The Commonwealth of Massachusetts expects that every parent will provide financial support for his/her child. In nearly any Court case by one parent against another, the Courts will ensure that both parties are providing financial support for the child.
Do mothers have to pay child support?
The determination for whether child support is to be paid (and the amount of the child support) does not depend on whether a child is living with his/her mother or father. Instead, Courts look at several factors, including:
- which parent has primary custody of the child (or is it shared)
- the income of both parties
- the cost of day care
- the cost of health insurance
- the number of children involved in the case
- whether either parent has another child support obligation
I don’t work, do I still have to pay child support?
The Massachusetts Child Support guidelines sets a minimum child support amount of at least $80.00 per month. However, it is extremely rare for a judge to order a minimum child support amount.
I think my child’s father (mother) is working “under the table.” What should I do?
Unreported income, and particularly cash income, can be very difficult to identify and locate. A qualified attorney can help to locate some of the most common ways to uncover these funds and increase the amount of child support.
My child’s father (mother) won’t get a job. What should I do?
A court can order a child’s parent to seek work. If they refuse, or if the judge believes that the parent isn’t trying hard enough, a court can order that the child support be increased to the amount he/she should be earning.
How much child support should I be getting?
Child support is calculated using the Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines worksheet (link). If you don’t know some or all of the numbers to enter for the other parent, the information is available during the Court case in a process called “discovery.”
How do I ask the Court for child support?
There are several cases that involve requesting child support depending on your circumstances:
- Complaint for Divorce — for married couples with children
- Complaint for Support — for unmarried parents with children
- Complaint for Modification — for parents with a current child support order already in place
- Complaint for Separate Support — for married couples with children who do not wish to file for divorce
How do I change the amount of child support I pay or receive?
If there has been a substantial change in circumstance, you can file a Complaint for Modification.
Do Courts ever order less support than the amount in the child support guidelines worksheet?
In rare occasions, the Courts can order less child support than the amount suggested by the guidelines worksheets. You have to have a good reason: generally that you are providing support to the child in another way (such as extremely high costs to have visitation or paying educational costs).
What if I can’t afford to pay the child support?
If you can’t afford the support because you have experienced a change or loss of income, a Complaint for Modification is necessary. Otherwise, Courts typically vigorously enforce child support orders.
What if I get a second job or overtime?
This can be complicated because timing is everything. If you are already working a second job when the child support case if filed, Courts can include the income in the child support calculation. On the other hand, if you take a second job or overtime to be able to pay an order already in place, Courts can exclude that income from the calculation.
What type of income is included in the child support calculation?
Every type of income, including wages, commissions, tips, bonuses, rental income, lottery winnings, insurance payouts, gambling income, dividends, capital gains, etc.
Does my ex have to provide his/her income information to me?
Unless there is a court order that requires it, a parent is not required to provide income information until a case is filed. Once a case is filed and serve, all or nearly all the parent’s income information can be requested and must be produced.
Are child support and visitation time related?
Paying child support does not “buy” parenting time. Failing to pay child support doesn’t mean that a parent doesn’t get parenting time.
The child support calculations do take into account which parent the child spends more time with. Child support can be reduced if the child spends more than one-third of his/her time with the parent paying child support. In cases where the child spends half time with each parent, the Court will apply the child support calculation in both directions, and the net amount will be the child support order.
When does child support end?
Many states provide a bright-line rule for termination of child support: usually when the child turns 18. Massachusetts has a more complex standard.
- Child support goes to at least 18, but continues to 21 if the child is dependent on (generally means “living with”) a parent. So, if the child turns 18 and goes into the military or gets married, child support will end. However, if the child is living at home and works part time, child support goes until 21.
- Child support continues to 23 if the child is attending college full time.
Can I handle my modification case on my own?
Absolutely. Many people go through a variety of child support cases without the advice of an attorney. However, keep in mind that if you do not present your case correctly, your child support may be too high or too low. The Judge will enter a Judgment of the Court that cannot be changed until a substantial change in circumstance occurs.
What if I can’t afford the several thousand dollar retainer many attorneys ask for?
That’s where I can help. I offer a wide range of advice and representation on child support cases. These can include helping by just reviewing some paperwork, advising on your rights before a mediation, or a “second opinion” before a major decision needs to be made. If you feel uncomfortable going to court, I can represent you for a single hearing. I offer these services on an affordable, flat fee basis.
Many clients prefer to have an attorney throughout the entire case, but simply cannot afford to make a large upfront retainer payment. In these situations, I am happy to break the case down into several individual events and charge only for that service. This allows my clients to spread the cost of the child support case out over the length of the case. It also means that you don’t have to be afraid to pick up the phone or send me an e-mail, because you won’t be getting a bill for that service.