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What are the Major Changes to the 2017 Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines?

Every four years, the Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines are reviewed, updated and amended. On September 15, 2017, the new Child Support Guidelines will take effect. While many provisions of the current guidelines will remain the same, there are several major changes that may have a significant impact on parties who already have a support order. These include changes to the minimum presumptive order, the calculation of support for children between 18 and 23 years of age, the payment of child care and health insurance costs, the removal of a calculation for parenting plans that are not 50/50 or one-third/ two-thirds, and the addition of a maximum parental contribution to college expenses. 

First, the child support guidelines changed the minimum presumptive child support order from $80.00 per month to $25.00 per week. This may not seem like a significant change, but it will make an impact to lower income families. 

Second, the guidelines included an extra calculation for children who are 18 to 23 years old, not in high school, and unemancipated. In summary, the guidelines decreased the child support order for the children who are in this category by 25%, in an effort to address concerns about the continued payment of child support for children who were in school most of the year or who were capable of earning income. However, a judge can still choose not to apply this 25% decrease or can even decide that no child support for children over 18 should be ordered. 

A third major change is that the costs of reasonably necessary child and health/dental/vision insurance will now be shared by the parties in proportion to their income through a 2-step calculation. However, the total cost of child care and insurance that will be shared in this way will be capped at 15% of the base child support order. In theory, this will help the parties to share these necessary expenses proportionally, while also maintaining a reasonable child support order. 

Next, the new guidelines removed the extra calculation for parties who had parenting time of more than 1/3 but less than 1/2 of the total time. The Task Force that was charged with creating these guidelines determined that this extra calculation was causing acrimony and increased litigation. As such, the guidelines have two main options: equal or approximately equal parenting time and financial responsibility to both parties or 1/3 of the time with one parent, and 2/3 of the time with the other.  The court can still deviate from these calculations in situations where one parent has less than 1/3 of the time, but only if it's substantially less.  

A last major change to the guidelines is the maximum contribution by each party to a child's college or post-secondary education costs. The guidelines cap this contribution to 50% of the cost of the undergraduate, in-state resident cost of UMass Amherst, unless the court determines that a parent has the ability to pay a higher amount.  This does not apply to children who are already enrolled in a post-secondary education before the effective date of these guidelines. Keep in mind that contribution to post-secondary educational expenses is not presumptive. In other words, parties should not automatically assume that they will be ordered to make any contributions towards college expenses, though the chances of having to make some contribution increase if a party has available resources. 

These new guidelines may result in significant changes (up or down) to current child support orders. As such, it may be beneficial to consult with an attorney and determine if and how the new guidelines will impact your family and if a modification is warranted. 

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