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What happens if a parent has little or no income?


There is a minimum child support order of $18.46 per week.  This applies if the payor’s income is less than $100 per week.

What if a parent is unemployed or underemployed?

Sometimes, a parent chooses not to work on purpose. Or, a parent works:

  • part-time, or
  • in a trade or profession that they are not trained for.

If parents are earning less than they could, the judge can order child support anyway. The judge can calculate a child support order based on what the parent could be earning.

The Child Support Guidelines say that if the judge decides that either or both parents is earning much less than they could through reasonable effort, the court may consider “potential earning capacity” instead of what they actually earn.

When a judge decides about a parent’s potential earning capacity, they must consider the parent’s:

  • education,
  • training,
  • health, and
  • past employment history.

The judge also looks at the age, number, and needs of the children covered by the order.

The court can consider the potential earning capacity of each parent in calculating the child support order.


These rules do not apply to custodial parents with children who live with them and are who are less than six years old.


Produced by Attorney Jeff Wolf for MassLegalHelp
Last updated May 2013


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