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What is Child Support, and When does it Occur in Massachusetts?

Although parents owe a fiduciary responsibility to support children following a family breakup, it is common for parents to default or avoid this responsibility. Thus, Massachusetts makes paying child support a statutory obligation and sets up the Child Support Enforcement Division to enforce orders by the judiciary regarding this matter. Records of these cases are mostly available to the public unless sealed by court order or statute.

Records that are considered public may be accessible from some third-party websites. These websites often make searching more straightforward, as they are not limited by geographic location, and search engines on these sites may help when starting a search for specific or multiple records. To begin using such a search engine on a third-party or government website, interested parties usually must provide: 

  • The name of the person involved in the record, unless said person is a juvenile 
  • The location or assumed location of the document or person involved 

Third-party sites are independent of government sources and are not sponsored by these government agencies. Because of this, record availability on third-party websites may vary. 

What is Massachusetts Child Support? 

Child support is the court-ordered payment for the care, maintenance, and support of a minor child after legal separation or divorce (Mass. Gen. Laws. 208 § 28).. Upon the dissolution of a family unit in Massachusetts, one parent has primary custody of the minor, i.e., the custodial parent. The other parent shares custody via parenting time, i.e., the non-custodial parent. Generally, the non-custodial parent is the one responsible for making child support payments in the state.

What Does Child Support Cover in Massachusetts?

Contrary to common knowledge, child support payments go beyond basic needs. The payment generally covers all the necessary expenses needed to support a growing child in Massachusetts. These include:

  • Food
  • Clothing
  • Housing
  • Educational costs
  • Health insurance
  • Dental/Vision insurance
  • Routine uninsured medical expenses
  • Uninsured extraordinary expenses
  • Childcare costs
  • Travel expenses
  • Extracurricular activities

What is the Average Child Support Payment in Massachusetts?

At present, the minimum order for child support in Massachusetts is $25.00 per week as set by the judicial task force since 2002. The amount payable by a parent depends on several factors, but the court uses the income share model. Next, the court considers the child’s age and general cost of childcare to determine the payable amount.

The assumption is that a child should receive the kind of support he/she would receive regardless of the relationship between parents. Interested persons may use the child support worksheet to estimate the payable amount.

Parents may reach a mutual agreement regarding the payable amount while preparing the settlement agreement. The court has the authority to decide the payable amount where the parents fail to prepare an equitable arrangement for child support. The court shall follow the child support guidelines in issuing the order.

How Do I Apply for Child Support in Massachusetts?

Interested persons may apply for child support online on this application page. The judiciary also provides systematic instructions to apply for a child support order in person or by mail. Generally, the custodial parent must file a written complaint in the Probate and Family Court in the county of residence (see court locations)..

Note that the procedure differs for married parents, intending divorcees, and unmarried persons. The filing fee for child support is $120.00, but a petitioner may file for a waiver of court fees by citing indigency. The application forms are available on this webpage, and the intending petitioner may submit the petition in person or via mail.

How Do I Get Out of Paying Child Support in Massachusetts?

Massachusetts laws allow civilian parents to seek a modification to child support payments by submitting a petition to the Massachusetts Department of Revenue. Modifying a child support order is only possible under extenuating circumstances such as:

  • An inconsistency between the amount of the existing order and the payable amount after applying the child support guidelines;
  • Termination or change in health insurance; and,
  • Any other material and substantial change in circumstances.

Military parents can only ask for the modification of child support payment with a court petition. The Department assists service members with this process (see information).. Meanwhile, civilian parents submitting a petition to the Department of Revenue must provide supporting documents. These include proof of receiving public assistance benefits, unemployment benefits, and court order changing child custody.

Apart from these, to get out of paying for child support in Massachusetts, both parents must file a joint petitioner for modification. The petitioners must attach a mutual agreement to terminate child support with the petition. The judiciary provides instructions on this webpage. Otherwise, the parent must wait until the child attains maturity at twenty-three years old or some significant adult milestone. Note that this section does not replace professional advice from an experienced family lawyer.

What is Back Child Support in Massachusetts?   

Back child support is the payable amount that a non-custodial parent missed or refused to pay after a court order for child support becomes effective. In Massachusetts, this is called past-due child support or arrears.

Note that back child support is different from retroactive child support, which refers to a claim for child expenses that a custodial parent incurred from birth up to the application date.

Massachusetts recognizes retroactive child support, but this relief is only applicable to unmarried parents (M. G. L. A. c. 209C § 9).. While the court will ensure that the non-custodial parent pays retroactive child support—effective from the date of birth, the payable amount is subject to judicial discretion. Again, married parents seeking divorce cannot seek retroactive child support in Massachusetts (M. G. L. c. 119A §13(a))..

How Do I Get Back Child Support Paid in Massachusetts?

The custodial parent must contact the Department of Revenue to get back child support from a defaulting parent. Visit this official webpage for instructions to request overdue child support payments.

Upon submitting a complaint for contempt, the Department uses various administrative and judicial actions to enforce the payment. These include a court order, income withholding, interests, suspension of driver’s license, federal tax offset program, levies, and liens. In 2020, Massachusetts intercepted economic impact payment for the first round of stimulus checks of defaulting parents.

Is there a Massachusetts Statute of Limitation on Child Support?

No, there is no statute of limitation on court-ordered child support for children under eighteen years. The order is still enforceable for past-due child support and retroactive child support even after the child attains maturity.  

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