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Divorce agreements aren't necessarily designed to be permanent, so courts frequently allow them to be modified. When there’s a change in circumstances, you have the right to go back and modify an order. When it comes to child support, you can modify an order once every three years. Even if you aren't aware of a change in circumstances, you're entitled to a "checkup" every three years. It’s in the new child support guidelines.
If it’s less than three years and you know there’s been a change in circumstances—for example, if someone lost their job or if someone got a raise—those changes may lead to issues that warrant modification. What you need is clear and compelling evidence of the change in circumstances. You would then present that in front of the court in order to have your child support changed.
What You Need to Know About Modifications
Income Attribution in Massachusetts
Income may be attributed where a finding has been made that either parent is capable of working and is unemployed or underemployed. The Massachusetts courts consider all relevant factors, including the education, training, health, past employment history of the parent, and the availability of employment at the attributed level. Once the court determines that one of the spouses is earning less than he or she could through reasonable effort, the court can consider potential earning capacity rather than actual earnings in making orders relating to child support.
Child Support Guidelines May Not Be Applicable
In cases where combined available income is more than $250,000, the guidelines should only be applied on the first $250,000 of combined income. The child support obligation based on any income that exceeds $250,000 is within the discretion of the court. The Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines worksheet provides a tool for calculating a support order that exceeds $250,000.
Courts Will Not Enforce Verbal Child Support Agreements
It’s essential to get court approval. Even if you and your child's other parent have entered into an agreement and have agreed to a new amount, you must go to court and ask a judge to approve your agreement and issue a new order reflecting your terms in order for it to be enforceable.
How to Decrease Child Support Payments
While every child has a fundamental right to be financially supported by both parents, you have a right to seek a reduction in child support if your income has been reduced. You may be enduring hardships such as unemployment, a loss of bonuses, or simply an overall downturn in business.
Do Not Go to Your Hearing Unprepared
Support calculations, while they may seem straightforward, can be manipulated. There are a number of different ways to calculate income, such as percentage of parenting time, the effect of other children in the home, dependency exemptions, etc.
There are a number of factors the judge may consider before decreasing child support, including but not limited to:
- Change in circumstance
- Change in custody
- Decrease in income
- Loss in employment
One misconception about child support is that it’s based on a set of strict mathematical formulas. This is only partially true. Guidelines provide calculations as a starting point, but these amounts can be deviated from for numerous reasons.
How to Increase Child Support Payments
When child support no longer covers your children’s basic needs, you have the right to go back to court to seek an increase.
Common reasons for a court to increase child support:
- A substantial increase in the payor's income
- A substantial decrease in the recipient’s income
- A substantial increase in the child’s needs, such as medical or educational expenses
- When parenting time is less than one-third for the person paying child support
Defining Income in Child Support Calculations
For purposes of calculating child support, income is defined as gross income from whatever source regardless of whether that income is recognized by or reported to the Internal Revenue Service or other taxing authorities.
Sources of income that a family law judge may consider in modification include:
- Overtime and tips
- Severance pay
- Royalties and bonuses
- Interest and dividends
- Income derived from businesses
- Social security
- Military pay
- Veterans’ benefits
- Insurance benefits
- Workers’ compensation
- Unemployment compensation
- Net rental income
- Lottery or gambling winnings
Child Support Enforcement Attorneys
When parents charged with paying child support fail to make their payments—or do not make them on time—those who need the money have options to get their payment through court-ordered enforcement. Our attorneys can help handle enforcement and contempt actions, and we have experience with seeking judgment for back support.
Is it Worth Hiring a Child Support Attorney?
Whether or not to hire a lawyer to help you get your child support changed comes down to how much support is at issue and for how long. For example, reducing child support by $25 per week with a 6-year-old adds up to a $46,800 savings by the time the child is 18, while the same weekly reduction with a 15-year-old may only save $3,500-$4,000, which is the amount it would likely cost to retain an attorney.
We are experienced at looking beyond the strict mathematical formulas and evaluating the full scope of child support issues. For a free consultation call us at (508) 502-7002 or fill out a consultation form.
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