Massachusetts has "Child Support Guidelines" that judges must use to figure out how much child support the parent without custody has to pay each week.
You can figure out the amount of child support you should get by using the Child Support Guidelines Worksheet. You will need information from the other parent’s financial statement to fill in this worksheet. Since the Child Support Guidelines Worksheet has a built-in calculator you can use it to estimate how much child support the court may order. The court will look at the Child Support Guidelines Worksheet to decide how much support the other parent will pay. In some rare cases, the court might order a different amount.
Usually, the court will order the other parent to pay at least $80.00/month. In rare cases, if the other parent has very little money, the court may not order him to pay any child support at all.
If the other parent is not working, the court may order him to do job searches and to report his job search efforts to the court.
If the father of your child has other children, you may get less child support. Under the Child Support Guidelines, the judge has to consider the amount of child support the father pays under another child support order before deciding the amount of support for your child.
To figure out how this will affect your child support, you need to know how much money the father pays in support for the other children. Subtract that amount from the father's income before taxes. Use that number for the father's income when you use the Child Support Guidelines Worksheet to figure out how much support he has to pay for your child.
Say the other parent makes $100/week before taxes, and he pays $25/week in support for another child. Subtract $25 from $100, and you get $75. Write $75 on the line for the father's weekly income when you use the Child Support Guidelines Worksheet to figure out how much support he must pay for your child.
You might be able to get more child support if your “financial circumstances” have changed a lot since the last order. Some examples of changes that make a difference are:
- the other parent's income goes up by at least 20%;
- your oldest child turns thirteen;
- you made at least $20,000 when you got the order and now you make less; or
- one of your children was not living with you but has now moved back in with you.
The steps to find out if the changes are big enough to get your child support order changed are:
- Check the Child Support Guidelines Worksheet.
- Fill in the new information.
- Divide the answer you get on the Worksheet or online calculator by the amount of child support you get now.
- If the answer is 1.2 or more, you may be able to get a new order.
You will need to file a Complaint for Modification to ask for a new child support order.
You will need to get a sheriff or constable to serve the complaint on the other parent with a summons (an official document that tells the other parent that the court is going to hold a hearing. At the hearing, the court may make a new order.). If you have a low income, file an Affidavit of Indigency form to ask the state to pay the sheriff's fee.
You must then go to court on the hearing date. You will need to bring the following:
- your completed Financial Statement,
- your completed Child Support Guidelines Worksheet,
- your wage assignment form,
- any proof you have that the facts of your case (your “financial circumstances”) have changed.
If the other parent doesn't show up at the hearing
If the other parent doesn't show up, the judge will ask for proof that the other parent knew about the court date. Show the judge the summons that the sheriff signed after he served the other parent with the court papers. You will still need to show the judge that the other parent’s income or the facts of your case have changed a lot. If you do these things, the judge should order more child support.
If the other parent does show up at the hearing
If the other parent does show up, the court will ask you and him 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 be able 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. You do not have to 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, make sure you have really thought about it.
When you file your complaint you can also file a Motion for Temporary Support that asks the court to order child support (or more child support) right away. If you win your motion, you will get a temporary order of child support that will last until the final hearing in the case. If you don't file a Motion for Temporary Support, you will have to wait for the decision from the final hearing. You may end up waiting for months. A motion can be decided a lot faster than the entire case.
If you file a Complaint for Modification, and you can show that the other parent agrees on the basic facts (like how much he earns now), you can file a Motion for Summary Judgment. This lets you get a final judgment more quickly. But filing a Motion for Summary Judgment is only for cases where there is no real argument about the facts. If you think that the facts are clear and cannot be argued about, it is a good idea to talk to someone with legal training. You can call your local legal services office to see if they can help you.
Produced by an AmeriCorps Project of Western Massachusetts Legal Services; updated and revised by Jeff Wolf, Massachusetts Law Reform Institute Last updated August 2013