Child support is intended to assist custodial parents with the financial aspect of child-rearing. When a child resides primarily with one parent, much of the financial burden is placed on that parent. Child support laws aim to alleviate some of the expenses via contributions from the noncustodial parent – the parent that does not have primary physical custody of the child.
The payment obligation is often assigned to the noncustodial parent pursuant to a separation or divorce, or parenting agreement. In Massachusetts, the obligation to support a child continues, at a minimum, until the child reaches 18 or is graduated from high school. In many cases, however, the payment requirement will be extended until age 21 if the child is living with a parent and financially dependent, or until age 23 if the child is pursuing an undergraduate degree.
The court assigns an amount based on the state’s guidelines. When deciphering what the payment should be, the court looks at the income levels of the parents. The state considers all sources of income in this analysis – Social Security benefits, pensions, royalties, wages and more.
The guidelines ultimately presume that the parents’ combined income does not exceed 250,000 per year; however, the court may deviate from this standard, based on the family’s personal arrangements, and certain specified factors.
The calculation also takes into account the amount of time the children are with each parent, the number of children that must be supported, and the costs to each part of health insurance and child care. If there are more children, a greater percentage of the noncustodial parent’s income will be allocated toward payments.
Changes to the payment obligation
Either parent may request that the payment obligation be modified. This is permitted in cases when the order might increase or decrease dramatically. Modifications are likely when there is a change in custody, a significant change in income or variations in educational or childcare expenses. The payment amount might also be adjusted if the child becomes sick or acquires additional supportive needs.
What if a parent does not pay the ordered child support?
If a parent avoids the payment obligation, a yearly interest of 12 percent will accrue. Moreover, the Massachusetts Department of Revenue’s Child Support Enforcement Division could collect missed payments in addition to interest. It may do so in a couple of different ways, including garnishing wages, seizing bank funds, claiming tax refunds or placing liens on property.
Ultimately, the state takes the payment order very seriously. Without child support, a custodial parent may not be able to meet all of the child’s needs. It is important that both parents are contributing financially to the wellbeing of the child.
Remember – the court may make special departures from the traditional payment calculation in situations where a family has unique circumstances. If you have questions regarding child support and want more detail on the payment obligation, talk to an experienced family law attorney in your area. A legal professional with ample experience can help you assess your case.