Massachusetts' Child Support Laws

By Heather Frances J.D.

portrait of a daughter riding piggyback on her mother

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As in other states, Massachusetts parents must provide financial support for their children, even if the parents are not married. When parents divorce, their divorce court sets a child support amount that the non-custodial parent must pay toward his child's care. In Massachusetts, child support amounts are set by court guidelines and are enforceable by state law.

Laws and Guidelines

Massachusetts laws give courts the authority to make decisions about child support amounts. To arrive at an amount for each family, state law requires judges to use the state's child support guidelines. When the court applies the guidelines to a parent's case, it presumes that the amount established by the guidelines is correct. However, if the court feels the guideline amounts are inappropriate, under the circumstances, the court can set a different support amount.

Generally, Massachusetts' guidelines consider each parent's income, minus certain deductions, when calculating support. Each parent is expected to contribute a certain percentage of his income toward his child's care, so the court uses a worksheet to determine how much each parent should contribute. The court then considers how much time the child spends with each parent to set an amount of money that the noncustodial parent should contribute to the custodial parent.

Income Guidelines

Massachusetts' guidelines define income for the purposes of child support calculations as all income, including wages, salaries, overtime, tips, commissions, royalties, bonuses, interest, government benefits, pensions and most other types of pay. The court also considers self-employment income, although the court may pay special attention to self-employment income to make sure it accurately reflects the parent's income level.

Other Considerations

In some cases, the guidelines allow Massachusetts judges to consider more than just the parents' income. For example, the guidelines amounts are designed for families in which one child spends most of his time with one parent and about one-third of his time with the other parent. Thus, parents who share equal custody of their child will have a different child support arrangement than parents who have a two-thirds and one-third split. The guidelines also allow courts to consider reasonable child care costs, health insurance costs and extraordinary medical expenses.

Enforcement Options

Massachusetts law also provides ways in which the government and courts can enforce child support orders when the paying parent does not meet his obligations. These enforcement options include increasing the amount withheld from his paycheck by his employer, putting a lien on the paying parent's real estate or other property, seizing his bank accounts, suspending his driver's license or professional licenses, seizing his car or other property, intercepting his tax returns or other government benefits and asking the federal government to deny his passport.