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What if a parent earns less than they could?

Produced by Massachusetts Law Reform Institute
Reviewed January 2022

If a parent earns less than they can, the judge can calculate a child support order based on what the parent can earn.

The judge can decide that a parent must contribute more to child support if the parent is:

  1. able to work but unemployed or underemployed,
  2. earns less than they could, and
  3. not trying hard enough to earn what they could earn.

When the judge decides a parent should contribute more, the judge must consider the age, number, needs, and care of the children.

The judge must also consider the parent’s circumstances like:

  • assets, things the parent owns,
  • residence,
  • education,
  • training,
  • job skills,
  • literacy,
  • criminal record and other employment barriers,
  • age,
  • health,
  • past employment and earnings history,
  • past record of seeking work,
  • availability of employment at the attributed income level,
  • availability of employers willing to hire the parent, and
  • relevant normal earnings in the local community.

The Child Support Guidelines call what you could be earning instead of what you are actually earning “attribution of income.” If you are earning less than you could, the judge can attribute income to you and use that amount in the Child Support Guidelines Worksheet.

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