The 2017 Child Support Guidelines were released as of July 18, 2017, and they go into effect September 15, 2017. These guidelines will affect orders prospectively; they will not affect already existing orders. These child support guidelines are modified every four years to reflect changes in case law and inflation. After reviewing the newest guidelines, the following points are what I as a family law attorney feel potential litigants should take note of:
- Under Section II A, a new sentence was added to provide further clarification for litigants: “These guidelines were developed with the understanding that alimony is for the support of a spouse, while child support is for the support of the children.” In English, this means that alimony and child support are two separate and distinct payments with distinctly different purposes. The previous guidelines were not as clear on this fact; therefore, this sentence was added.
- Under Section II C, the child support committee made two key changes. The statutory minimum was increased from $80 a month to $100 a month, and the minimum gross weekly income was lowered from $150 a week to $115 a week. This change represents changes in the cost of living and inflation, and is probably long over due for families who need the support.
- Under Section II G, the guidelines explicitly cap ordered college costs at one-half of University of Massachusetts tuition (approximately $5,842/year), or by agreement of the parties. This provision will give the payor some certainty as to what expected college costs will be. It is also important to note that this section does state that a payor may be ordered to simultaneously pay both college expenses and child support, but both payments will be taken into account.
- Under Section II H, I, J, the new guidelines break health coverage into more distinct sections. Specifically, Health Care Coverage (II H) is broken down into more scenarios commonly seen in the family law court to provide more clarification for the litigants.
- Section II K is a new addition to the guidelines. This section seeks to address those individuals who are supporting multiple children, possibly under different orders. The guidelines allow for the payor’s available income to be reduced by the amount that they are paying in child support for another child (not the case under consideration). The sub-bullet under this section address both court ordered and voluntary support; however, voluntary support is harder to prove. Receipts, proof of payment, and other intrinsic evidence will be needed. Two important smaller pieces to this section are that payments on arrearages do not count towards an income reduction, and that child support may only be increased due to obligations to other family members. This is to eliminate payor making the argument “that I am responsible for X other kids, and therefore; I need a reduction”. The payor’s other obligations are taken into consideration as spelled out throughout this section; therefore, it cannot subsequently be used to decrease support.
- While Section IV, Deviation, does not have any substantive changes, Principle 5 is new, which reads: “recognizing that deviations should be used when appropriate to tail a child support order to the unique circumstances of a particular family”. This statement emphasizes that litigants should be aware of their ability to deviate from the guidelines. It should be noted that a Judge needs to make written findings regarding deviation. In practice, this means that a Judge will only order a deviated amount if the family’s situation fits the deviation criteria as spelled out in the guidelines (Section IV).
Overall, in my opinion, the new child support guidelines turn away from parenting time percentages and tries to re-focus the litigants on the child(ren) and the particular needs of each family.
I suggest that any litigant going before the family court with regards to child support should read the guidelines thoroughly, regardless of whether or not you have representation.
If you need help or support from those familiar with these guidelines, please contact us.