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New guidelines do apply to child support modification petitions

As you may know, the Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines were recently revised after a standard review that takes place every four years. The new guidelines just went into effect on Aug. 1.

If you already have a child support order, you may have assumed that the changes didn’t apply to you. It’s true that the courts won’t be going through old cases and retroactively applying the changes. However, as a recent Q&A in the Boston Herald pointed out, if you or your children’s other parent petitions for a child support modification, the judge will use the new guidelines to determine the child support obligation.

The man who wrote into the Herald’s “Divorce 411” columnist after he received a summons regarding a child support modification petition filed by his ex-wife. He had recently been promoted and received a pay increase. He didn’t think the increase in pay was substantial, and wondered whether his child support obligation was likely to be increased.

Generally, the amount of child support is subject to change if there has been a “material and substantial” change in circumstances, and also when applying the new guidelines would result in an amount inconsistent with the new order.

So, if the Divorce 411 questioner’s raise in pay would increase his child support obligation in light of the new guidelines, his ex-wife’s modification petition could very well be successful, even if his raise wasn’t substantial. However, there are other factors to consider, the most important of which is how the percentage of time each parent spends in custody of the kids.

When the kids spend more than two thirds of their time with one parent, the other parent may be ordered to pay additional child support. And, when one parent incurs significant child care or medical expenses on behalf of the child, the order could be changed to share those expenses more equally.

However, the new guidelines made some changes to what types of income can be considered in the calculation and what should happen in situations where the parents’ combined income is greater than $250,000.

Since the questioner didn’t provide information about his specific situation, it’s impossible to know whether he’ll end up owing more child support. However, all parents subject to Massachusetts child support orders should be aware that those orders can be modified under the new guidelines, even if they were issued under the previous ones.

Sources: 

  • Boston Herald.com's Divorce 411 column, "New child support guidelines affect old order," Gerald Nissenbaum, Sept. 15, 2013
  • The Massachusetts Court System Public Information Office, "Trial Court Issues New Child Support Guidelines Effective August 1st," June 20, 2013

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