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How do I file for child support?

 

You can file for child support by going to your local Probate and Family Court. Ask the clerk for the forms and fill them out. You do not have to have a lawyer to file for child support.

You can get child support by filing a Complaint for Support. Only file this complaint if you are married to the other parent. You can also ask for child support when you file any one of these other complaints:

You can file any of these complaints in the Probate and Family court in your area. You can get complaint forms at the clerk's office. If the other parent files any of these complaints in Probate and Family Court, you can ask for child support in your "answer" to his case.

If you have been abused you can file for a 209A protective order in your local District Court and get child support that way. The District Court clerk's office should have forms for 209A protective orders. Do not be surprised if the clerk tells you to go to Probate and Family Court. Clerks sometimes do not know that you have the right to ask for child support through a 209A protective order in District Court.

After you file your complaint, you will need to get it served by a sheriff or a constable.

To learn more about how to to get an order for child support read the section Probate and Family Court.

How much does it cost to get a child support order?

When you file for child support you will file a “complaint”. All complaints except the Complaint for Support of Spouse or Child and the Complaint for Protection from Abuse (G.L. c. 209A) have:

  1. a filing fee and a $15 surcharge.
  2. You will also need a $5 summons.
  3. A deputy sheriff or a constable to serve the complaint and summons usually charge $35-$45. There is no charge to serve a Complaint for Protection from Abuse.

Filing fees for Complaints

The filing fee for a Complaint for Divorce is $200.

The filing fee for a Complaint for Separate Support is $100.

The filing fee for a Complaint to Establish Paternity is $100.

The filing fee for a Complaint for Support - Custody - Visitation is $100.

There is no filing fee, surcharge or summons fee for a Complaint for Support of Spouse or Child or for a Complaint for Protection from Abuse (G.L. c. 209A).

I cannot afford these fees

If you get public assistance or your income is very low, you may be able to get the filing fees "waived". If you cannot afford the fees, fill out an Affidavit of Indigency. Ask the clerk at the desk who gave it to you, to approve it. You will not have to pay the fees and the state will also pay the cost of serving the papers

What if I need child support right away?

We are getting divorced

If you getting divorced, you can file a Motion for Temporary Support. You will get a hearing and the court can make a temporary order of support for your children or you. The temporary order lasts until the court changes the order. The court may change the order when the judge hears your divorce case.

I am filing a 209A Complaint for Protection from Abuse

If you ask for child support through a Complaint for Protection from Abuse, you should be able to get the order fairly quickly.

Other complaints

Getting child support by filing another type of complaint can take longer. You can get child support more quickly by filing a Motion for Temporary Support along with the complaint.

Ask the clerk for a "motion form." There is no extra filing fee for the motion.

  1. If you filed the complaint, you must give the motion to the sheriff or constable to serve with the complaint.
  2. If you have already filed and served your complaint, you can file and serve the Motion for Temporary Support separately.
  3. If you have been served with a complaint, you can file and serve the Motion for Temporary Support separately.

When you file your motion, you need to schedule a date for a hearing about it. Ask the clerk which days the judge hears motions. Pick a date for your hearing and fill in that date on the motion form.

The other parent will have to go to court on the date the motion will be heard by the judge if he wants to argue against it. You also will need to go to the hearing and bring:

If the other parent shows up, the court will ask both of you to meet with a probation officer. This is to see if you can work out an agreement. If you have a 209A protective order, ask to sit in a separate room. You have the legal right to sit in a different room from the other parent. The probation officer can go back and forth between you and try to help you reach an agreement. Do not agree to something that you feel is unfair. You have the right to talk to the judge. The judge will usually decide that the other parent must pay you the amount that the Child Support Guidelines say, or close to it. If you decide to agree to less than that in the meeting with the probation officer, make sure you have really thought about it

After the hearing, the judge will probably write a temporary order of support. The temporary order will last until you get the final order in your divorce or support case.

How do I find out how much the other parent is making?

Here are three ways to show how much the other parent is making:

  1. After you file the complaint, send the other parent a pink financial statement to complete and send back to you. He must send it back to you within a certain number of days.
  2. If you have any of his recent pay check stubs, bring them to your hearing and show the judge.
  3. Subpoena his wage records.

Financial Statement

After you file the complaint, send the father of your child a blank Financial Statement and a letter asking him to fill it out by a certain date. The other parent is supposed to give it to you within 10 days of you asking for it. When he sends it back, you will know what he is making - as long as he tells the truth on the form.

If you don't send a letter asking for the filled out Financial Statement, the other parent is still supposed to give it to you by 45 days after the sheriff serves him the Complaint.

If you file a Motion for Temporary Support, the other parent is supposed to send you the completed Financial Statement at least two days before the hearing date for the motion.

What if the other parent won't fill out the Financial Statement?

The law says that the other parent has to fill out the Financial Statement and send you a copy. He can get in trouble with the court for refusing to do so. If he does not send you the form within the time limit, you can file a motion asking the court to make him send it to you. This is called a Motion to Compel.

Subpoena his wage records

If you don't have wage stubs, you can "subpoena" wage records. A subpoena (pronounced “suh-pee-nah”) is an official notice that requires a person to come to court to testify and be a witness. The subpoena can also require the person to bring certain documents.

As long as you have a court case, you can send a subpoena to the other parent's employer. The subpoena says the payroll staff has to come to court and tell the court how much money they pay the other parent. If the payroll staff does not want to come to court, they can send "certified" records of the other parent's wages directly to the court. If the employer ignores the subpoena, the court can issue an arrest warrant for the employer.

You can use a deputy sheriff or constable to serve the subpoena. You do not need to be a lawyer or a public official to serve a subpoena. You can ask a friend to do it. Using a deputy sheriff or constable might help you be sure that it will be done properly, and the process will be easier. But it will cost money.  If you have a friend who will be serving the subpoena, he or she needs to serve it correctly so you can be sure that your witness will come to court.

Here are the steps:

  1. Get a subpoena form. MassLegalHelp has a blank subpoena form that you can download and complete on the computer or print out and fill in by hand. You can also get subpoena forms from the clerk's office at the court
  2. Look at the sample subpoena form to see how to fill out the form.
  3. Figure out how much the “witness fee” will be in your case.   The witness fee in Massachusetts is $6.00 for each day that the witness attends court plus a travel expense of 10 cents per mile to and from the witness’ home and the court. If the witness has a place of business or employment in the city or town where the court is located, then the 10 cents per mile is measured from where the witness works to the court.  The witness fee and travel expense for one day’s attendance at court must be given to the witness in advance. You can estimate the mileage. (More on this in step 11)
    • You may not need the person you are serving with a subpoena to go to court. If what you really want is a document like pay records, you can ask the person to send a “certified true and complete copy” of the document instead. When you serve the subpoena, you can attach a letter that tells the person how to send documents instead of going to court. There are things that the person has to do if he or she wants to send the document instead of going to court. Look at a sample  letter.
  4. Look up the address of the person you want to subpoena.  If you want wage records, look up the other parent's work place in the phone book. Call them and get the address, and find out who is in charge of the payroll records (also called the “Keeper of the Records.”)
  5. Using the address and the name, fill out a subpoena form. When you fill out the form, include:
    1. what you are requesting,
    2. the person you are requesting it from,
    3. the  court that person needs to go to,
    4. when that person needs to be there, and
    5. the name of your case (Your Name vs. Other Parent). Look at a sample subpoena
  6. The subpoena must be notarized. Take your filled out subpoena to any notary public. There is usually a notary public at your local City Hall or bank. The notary should notarize the subpoena with her stamp for free or for a few dollars.
  7. Make two photocopies of the notarized subpoena form and the affidavit of service that is attached to the subpoena.
  8. You can ask a friend to serve the subpoena., but your friend must be:
    1. over eighteen, and
    2. not a witness for your case, and
    3. not related to the person you are serving.
  9. Give your friend the "witness fee", to give to the witness. Write the amount of the witness fee on the back of all three copies of the affidavit of service. Your friend can take the copies of the subpoena to the other parent's work place.   Your friend has to fill out all three copies of the affidavit of service (the statement attached to the subpoena that says she has given the subpoena to the witness).
  10. Your friend can give the subpoena to the witness (the person in charge of payroll) or the receptionist or the owner of the business. When your friend serves the subpoena she needs to:
    1. tell the person she is serving that she is giving them a subpoena;
    2. give the person she is serving the original notarized subpoena form;
    3. give the person she is serving one of the copies of the affidavit of service your friend has filled in saying that she has served the subpoena; and
    4. give the person she is serving the witness fee.
  11. Bring the second copy of the subpoena and the original affidavit of service with you when you go to court.  You may need to show that the witness was properly subpoenaed.

It costs money to serve a subpoena. Costs include a witness fee, and a service fee if you use a deputy sheriff or constable. If you cannot afford the costs, you can ask the state to pay the service and witness fees. 

See I cannot afford these fees


Produced by an AmeriCorps Project of Western Massachusetts Legal Services
Last updated October, 2009


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