Since 2002, I have helped clients advocate for fair child support awards. At the outset, it is important to understand that the courts will always put the needs of children first and foremost, as well they should. Children are by definition unable to provide for themselves – this is the job of the parents.
The following information answers many of the frequently-asked questions about child support, and also provides an overview as to how child support awards are made in Massachusetts. It’s important to understand that all support awards are unique, and that judges generally have significant discretion in making final custody awards. In some cases, for example, a support award for a special needs child may be much higher than a non-special needs child.
Child support becomes one of the most important aspects of a divorce when there are children involved. It is also important to note that child support issues also arise even when the parents never married.
Child support is meant to encourage joint responsibility from the parents. When deciding on an amount to be awarded, the court will look at the financial status of each parent, as well as what each parent provides for the child (such as housing, health insurance, etc.). The court’s objective is to make sure that the children have adequate financial and other support, which is often comparable to the conditions of the children prior to the divorce or separation of the parents.
Child support is awarded based on a percentage of gross incomes of the paying and receiving parent and the number of children who will be receiving support from the paying parent. In Massachusetts, in determining a child support award, factors taken into consideration include:
Currently, the minimum amount that can be awarded is approximately $100 a month. This amount is subject to increase should the supporting parent begin to receive more income.
In most states, the amount of child support is typically determined by a formula or child support calculator adopted by the state. For example in Massachusetts, the courts utilize a child support calculator.
You do not have to be a divorcing mother in order to obtain child support. Under law, BOTH parents are required to support their children, irrespective of whether they were ever married.
In a marriage, there is a presumption in most states that the husband is the father. If the parents are not married, a paternity test may be necessary to establish whether the person is the father so that (1) the mother can seek support, or (2) the father can seek parental rights, such as visitation. I help clients in both cases. In some situations, obtaining child support is not easy. The father (or mother) may have abandoned the child and the state. The identity of the father may be difficult to obtain. So long as you have some information about the father and can locate him, child support can be obtained with the Court typically ordering the father to undergo a paternity test. Once the paternity test comes back positive, child support is mandatory.
All parents are expected to provide for the welfare of their children; this is not the role of the state except in extreme circumstances. If you’re not the custodial parent and you’re not working, you will be expected to find a job. The court will first and foremost be concerned that sufficient financial resources are made available for the care of the children. Except in extreme circumstances in which a parent cannot work, courts will be highly reluctant to reduce support payments below a minimum threshold.
In the State of Massachusetts, if the custodial parent obtains any form of public benefits (food stamps, Mass Health, etc.), the Department of Revenue will get involved in the child’s life by pursuing the noncustodial parent for child support in an attempt to help provide additional support for a family whose financial circumstances require public assistance.
Unlike alimony, child support is not deductible by the supporting parent or included as income by the receiving parent. The parent who pays will include the amount in his/her gross income at the end of the year. The court will also make an order as to which parent may claim the child as their dependent on their taxes.
It’s important to understand that after child support payments are set, they are difficult to modify except if a situation changes significantly. If you’re involved in a child support matter or seeking support for a child, please call me at (978) 851-5145.
I provide affordable, experienced child support representation.