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How do judges decide how much child support to order?

Produced by Attorney Jeff Wolf for MassLegalHelp
Last updated June 15, 2018

Judges use the Child Support Guidelines Worksheet to figure out how much child support to order.

To complete a Worksheet you and the judge need to know:

  • The number and ages of children covered by the order,
  • Each parent’s income, and
  • Certain expenses of each parent.

On the Worksheet each parent puts their:

  • “gross weekly income,”
  • child care payments,
  • health care coverage payments,
  • dental and vision insurance payments,
  • other child support payments, and
  • The number of children the child support order will cover.

The Worksheet allows parents and the judge to do the math the Guidelines describe.

The Worksheet calculates the amount of income each parent has for supporting your children and a basic amount of child support.

The Worksheet adjusts the basic amount so that:

  • If the Recipient is paying a larger share of child and health care, the Worksheet gives them a credit and raises the child support amount
  • If the Payor is paying a larger share of child and health care, the Worksheet gives them a credit and lowers the child support amount
  • The credit is no more than 15% of the basic child support amount. The Worksheet calls the basic child support amount “Payor’s share of support.”

To fill out the Worksheet you need to have income and expense information for both parents. Use the other parent’s Financial Statement if you have it. If you do not know the other parent’s information, put in what you think it is.

On the Worksheet, the parent who receives the child support is called the “Recipient,” and the parent who pays the child support is called the “Payor.”

The minimum child support order is $25 per week.

You can get the Child Support Guidelines Worksheet from the Court website. Save the form to your computer first and then open.

If you use a computer, the Worksheet does all the math for you. You can use our instructions to:

  • fill out the Worksheet by hand, and
  • understand how the Worksheet applies the Child Support Guidelines to your situation.

Section 1 Age, Number, and Parenting of Children

Line 1a is the number of children you think should be covered by the child support order

Line 1b is about where your children live

Check the box that applies to the children to be covered by the order. Check one box only.

Check Box 1 if the children live with you and the other parent about the same amount of time. And you and the other parent share financial responsibility for the children.

Check Box 2 if the children live with one parent at least 2/3 of the time. This is the box you check if one parent is mainly responsible for the children.

Check Box 3 if more than one child is covered by the order and they do not all live with the same parent. For example one child lives mostly with one parent and the other children live with the other parent. This is the box you check if you split responsibility so that each parent provides the main home for at least one of your children.

Line 1c is each parent’s name

If you checked Box 2 in Line 1b above, put the name of the parent with whom the children primarily live in the column for Parent A, and the other parent’s name in the column for Parent B. If you checked Box 1 or 3, it does not matter which column you use for each parent’s name.

Line 1d is the number of your children under 18 to be covered by the order

If you checked Box 1 shared parental responsibility above, put the number of children from 1a in the column for each parent.

If you checked Box 2 above put the number of children from 1a in the column for Parent A and put 0 in the column for Parent B.

If you checked Box 3 split parental responsibility above put the number of children that lives with each parent in that parent’s column.

Line 1e is the number of your children between 18 and 23 to be covered by the order

The judge must look at the following reasons for including these children in the order:

  • your child’s living situation, like why your child lives with you, and when and how much time they live with you;
  • why your child is mainly dependent on you;
  • your child’s academic situation, like their progress in school, or if they are part-time of full-time;
  • all kinds of resources the parents may have, like a bedroom for the child or the ability to help with school work; and
  • each parent’s contribution to post-secondary education costs for the child or other children in the family.

If you checked Box 1 shared parental responsibility above, put the number of children from 1a in the column for each parent.

If you checked Box 2 above put the number of children from 1a in the column for Parent A and put 0 in the column for Parent B.

If you checked Box 3 split parental responsibility above put the number of children that lives with each parent in that parent’s column.

Line 1f is the total number of children to be covered by the order

  • Add 1d and 1e in each column.
  • Put the answer in 1f of each column.

Section 2 Income

Line 2a is each parent’s Gross Weekly Income

“Gross Weekly Income” is your income before taxes and deductions are taken out. It does not include public assistance like welfare, TAFDC, SSI, and Food Stamps SNAP.

Put the total gross weekly income of each parent in Line 2a of the Worksheet. If you do not know the other parent’s income, you can:

  • put in what you think it is, or
  • use the other parent’s Financial Statement if you have it.

Lines 2a – 2f are for figuring out your “Available Income”

“Available Income” is the part of each parent’s income that the Court uses to calculate child support.

To figure out “available income”:

  • Put each parent’s expenses in Lines 2b, 2c, 2d and 2e. Use weekly amounts:
  • 2b is child care expenses. Put the amount each parent actually pays for work-related child care and for work-related training and education.
  • 2c is the reasonable cost of individual or family health care coverage. Put the amount each parent actually pays for individual or family health care coverage.
  • 2d is the reasonable cost of dental and vision insurance for the children. Put the amount each parent actually pays for dental and vision insurance
  • 2e is existing court-ordered or voluntary reasonable payments you make for a child, spouse, or former spouse not involved on this case.
  • Subtract the expenses in 2b, 2c, 2d, and 2e from 2a in each column. Put the answer in 2f in each column. If the answer is less than $0, put in $0. These amounts are each parent’s “available income.”

 

Line 2g is your “combined available income”

Add the amounts in Parent A’s 2f and Parent B’s 2f and put the answer in 2g. Combined available income.

Note

If you use a computer, the Worksheet calculates "Available Income" and "Combined Available Income" automatically.

Line 2h is each parent’s share of their “Combined Available Income”

Each parent’s share is a percentage of their combined available income.

Parent A’s share

  • Divide Parent A’s “Available Income” 2f by the “Combined Available Income” 2g.
  • Multiply by 100.
  • Use the nearest whole number. You do not need any numbers to the right of the decimal point.
  • Put the answer in Line 2h in the Parent A column.

Parent B’s share

  • Divide Parent B’s “Available Income” 2f by the “Combined Available Income” 2g.
  • Multiply by 100.
  • Use the nearest whole number. You do not need any numbers to the right of the decimal point.
  • Put the answer in 2h in the Parent B column.

Note

If you use a computer, the Worksheet calculates each parent's "share of combined available income" for each parent automatically.

Section 3 Gross Support Amounts

This section of the Worksheet shows each parent’s share of child support before you make any adjustments and it shows how to change the support amount for 1 child to cover all the children in the order.

Line 3a is the parents’ combined income that is “available” for child support

Put the amount from 2g “combined available income” or $4,808. Usethe smaller amount.

Line 3b is the parents’ combined support amount for 1 child

Use

  • the 2017 Guidelines Chart to look up this amount, or
  • Table A at the bottom of the Worksheet to calculate the amount, or
  • your computer, to have the Worksheet put the amount in 3b for you.

 

Note

If you use the Guidelines Chart and the “combined available income” for 1 child falls between 2 rows, use the row with the lower amount.

Put the combined support amount in 3b.

Line 3c is the number you use to multiply the support amount for 1 child to cover all the children in the order

Use

  • Table B at the bottom of the Worksheet, or
  • your computer to have the Worksheet put the amount in 3c for you.

 

If you use Table B, get the “adjustment factor” from Table B next to the number of children you put in 1f.

If you checked Box 1 shared responsibility or Box 3 split responsibility in 1b, put the adjustment factor in 3c for Parent A and Parent B.

If you checked Box 2 in 1b because Parent A is mainly responsible for the children,

  • put the adjustment factor in 3c for Parent A.
  • Leave 3c for Parent B blank.

Line 3d is each parent’s combined support amount

If you checked Box 1 shared responsibility or Box 3 split responsibility in 1b,

  • multiply the number of children from 1f by 3c for each parent.
  • Put the answer in 3d for Parent A and Parent B.

If you checked Box 2 in 1b because Parent A is mainly responsible for the children,

  • multiply the number of children from 1f for Parent A by 3c.
  • Put the answer in 3d for Parent A.
  • Leave 3d for Parent B blank.

Note

If you use a computer,, the Worksheet puts the answers in 3c and 3d for you.

Important

The Guidelines formula is for fewer than 6 children.

The Guidelines say the order for more than 5 children should equal or be more than the amount for 5 children.

The Guidelines say both parents must contribute to their children’s support.

Section 4 Adjustment for Children 18 Years or Older

This section of the Worksheet adjusts the combined support amount if any child to be covered by the order is 18 or older.1

Line 4a is the percentage you use to adjust each parent’s share of child support

Use

  • Table C at the bottom of the Worksheet, or
  • your computer to have the Worksheet put the amount in 3c for you.

If you use Table C

For each parent:

  • Next to the words "children under 18," find the number you put in 1d and put your finger on it.
  • Under the words “children 18 or older,” find the number you put in 1e and put a finger from the other hand on it.
  • Drag your fingers across and down until they meet.
  • Where they meet is a percentage.

If you checked Box 1 shared responsibility or Box 3 split responsibility in 1b, put the percentage in 4a for Parent A and Parent B.

If you checked Box 2 in 1b because Parent A is mainly responsible for the children, put the percentage in 4a for Parent A.  Leave 4a for Parent B blank.

Line 4b is the adjustment for children 18 or older

If you checked Box 1 shared responsibility or Box 3 split responsibility in 1b, multiply 3d the combined support amount by the percentage in 4a, and put the answer in 4b for Parent A and Parent B.

If you checked Box 2 in 1b because Parent A is mainly responsible for the children, multiply 3d the combined support amount by the percentage in 4a, and put the answer in 4b for Parent A. Leave 4b for Parent B blank.

Note

To multiply a number by a percentage. Multiply the 2 numbers. Divide by 100. That is your answer.

Line 4c is the adjusted combined support amount for each parent

For each parent, subtract 4b from 3d and put the answer in 4c.  If 3d and 4b are blank, leave 4c blank.

Section 5 Proportional Support Amounts

This section of the Worksheet shows:

  • each parent’s share of the combined support amount,
  • which parent will be the Recipient of child support, and
  • which parent will be the Payor of child support.

If you checked Box 2 in 1b because Parent A is mainly responsible for the children, leave 5a – 5d for Parent B blank and put “Payor” in 5e for Parent B.

Line 5a is each parent’s share of support

Parent A’s share of support

  • Multiply Parent A’s share of combined available income in 2h by Parent A’s adjusted combined support amount in 4c.
  • Put the answer in Parent A’s column in 5a.

Parent B’s share of support

If you checked Box 2 in 1b because Parent A is mainly responsible for the children, leave 5a for Parent B blank.

If you checked Box 1 or Box 3 in 1b:

  • Multiply Parent B’s share of combined available income in 2h by Parent B’s adjusted combined support amount in 4c.
  • Put the answer in Parent B’s column in 5a.

Line 5b is the other parent’s share of child support

Parent A’s “other parent’s share of support” is Parent B’s share of support

  • Subtract Parent A’s 5a share of support from Parent A’s 4c adjusted combined support amount.
  • Put the answer in Parent A’s 5b other parent’s share.

Parent B’s “other parent’s share of support” is Parent A’s share of support

If you checked Box 2 in 1b because Parent A is mainly responsible for the children, leave 5b for Parent B blank.

If you checked Box 1 or Box 3 in 1b:

  • Subtract Parent B’s 5a share of support from Parent B’s 4c adjusted combined support amount.
  • Put the answer in Parent B’s 5b other parent’s share.

Line 5c shows the percentage of each parent’s available income to be used for child support

Parent B’s support as a percentage of Parent A’s income

If you checked Box 2 main responsibility in 1b, put N/A Not Applicable in Parent A’s 5c.

If you checked Box 1 shared responsibility or Box 3 split responsibility in 1b:

  • Only work in Parent A’s column.
  • Divide the other parent’s share of support in Parent A’s column 5b by Parent A’s available income 2f.
    • To get the percentage, multiply that number by 100.
    • Use the nearest whole number. You do not need any numbers to the right of the decimal point.
  • Put your answer in 5c. This is Parent B’s share of child support as a percentage of Parent A’s available income.
  • If 2f = $0, put 100%.

Parent A’s support as a percentage of Parent B’s income

If you checked Box 2 main responsibility in 1b, leave Parent B’s 5c blank.

If you checked Box 1 shared responsibility or Box 3 split responsibility in 1b:

  • Only work in Parent B’s column.
  • Divide the other parent’s share of support in Parent B’s column 5b by Parent B’s available income 2f.
    • To get the percentage, multiply that number by 100.
    • Use the nearest whole number. You do not need any numbers to the right of the decimal point.
  • Put your answer in 5c. This is Parent A’s share of child support as a percentage of Parent B’s available income.
  • If 2f = $0, put 100%.

Note for 5d

If you checked Box 2 main responsibility in 1b, leave Parent B’s 5d blank. Put 5b other parent’s share of support in 5d Parent A’s column.

Line 5d is each parent’s adjusted share of support when you and the other parent share or split responsibility for the children

5d adjusts each parent’s share of support when there is a big difference between your incomes. But the adjustment is limited.

5d lowers your share of support when your share is less than 10% of the other parent’s available income.

But it limits how low your share can go. Your share must be at least $25.

If 5c is N/A because you checked Box 2 1b main responsibility for your children, put 5b or $25, whichever is more, in Parent A’s column and $0 in Parent B’s column.

If you checked Box 1 shared responsibility or Box 3 split responsibility in 1b:

  • If a parent’s share of support in 5c is greater than or equal to 10%, put the amount in that parent’s column 5b in their 5d, or $25, whichever is more.
  • If a parent’s share of support in 5c is less than 10%,
    • Add 10% to the % in their 5c.
    • Write down the number you get.
    • Multiply the other parent’s available income in their 2f by the number you wrote down.
    • Divide the answer by 100.
    • Which is more, $25 or the answer you got when you divided by 100?
    • Put the bigger number in 5d.

Line 5e tells you which parent pays child support and which parent gets it

Put “Recipient” in the column where 5d is higher and “Payor” in the other column.

If 5d is the same in both columns, just put ”Recipient” in one column and “Payor” in the other column. It does not matter which.

Line 5f is the Payor’s share of support before further adjustments

5f is the amount of child support before you make possible adjustments in Sections 6, 7, or 8.

Section 6 Adjustment for Child Care and Health Care Costs

Child support includes child care and health care costs. When child care or health care costs are very high, Section 6 of the Worksheet shows how to adjust the child support amount to make up for these high costs.

This adjustment cannot change the Payor’s share of support by more than 15%.

Note

If you use a computer, the Worksheet puts the adjustment in 6h for you.

Line 6a is the amount each parent pays for child care and health care costs

  • Add 2b, 2c, and 2d in the Recipient’s column.
  • Put the answer in the Recipient’s box in 6a.
  • Add 2b, 2c, and 2d in the Payor’s column.
  • Put the answer in the Payor’s box in 6a.

Lines 6b and 6c show the amount each parent should contribute to the child and health care costs. The Guidelines say the parents should share these costs in line with their incomes. Section 6 changes the child support if the costs are not in line with the parent’s incomes.

Line 6b Payor’s share of the Recipient’s costs

  • Multiply the amount in the Recipient’s 6a by the number in the Payor’s 2h. That is the Recipient’s “child care and health care costs” times the Payor’s “share of combined available income.”
  • Divide by 100.
  • Put the answer in 6b.

Line 6c the Recipient’s share of the Payor’s costs

  • Multiply the amount in the Payor’s 6a by the number in the Recipient’s 2h. That is the Payor’s “child care and health care costs” times the Recipient’s “share of combined available income.”
  • Divide by 100.
  • Put the answer in 6c. It can b less than $0.

Line 6d the Payor’s net cost

6d is the difference between the parents’ shares.

  • Subtract 6c from 6b.
  • Put the answer in 6d.

Line 6e is the maximum adjustment amount

This adjustment cannot change the Payor’s share of support by more than 15%.

6e tells you what 15% of the Payor’s share is.

If 6a is $0 for both parents, put $0 in 6e.

Otherwise

  • Multiply 5f by 0.15.
  • Put the answer in 6e.

If there is a difference between the parents’ shares of child and health care costs, 6f and 6g show how much credit to give each parent for their share of these costs.

If there is a difference between the parents’ shares, 6f and 6g show how much to change the child support.

Line 6f is the credit the Recipient gets for paying high child and health care costs

  • If 6d is less than $0, put 0 in 6f.
  • If 6d is $0 or more, put the amount from 6d or 6e, whichever is less.

Line 6g is the credit the Payor gets for paying high child and health care costs

  • If 6d is greater than or equal to $0, put $0 in 6g.
  • If 6d less than $0, put the amount in 6d as a positive number or the amount in 6e, whichever is less.

Line 6h is the Payor’s adjusted share of child support

This is the amount of child support after both parents’ expenses have been included.

  • Add 3f and 4f.
  • Then subtract 4g from the answer.
  • If the answer is $25 or more put that amount in 4h.
  • If the answer is less than $25, put $25 in 4h.

Section 7 Payor’s Net Support Obligation

Judges use this section of the Worksheet to adjust the Payor’s weekly child support amount where the Recipient has a relatively high income and the Payor has a relatively low income.

Note

If you use a computer, the Worksheet calculates the adjusted weekly support amount automatically and puts the answer in Line 7b.

Line 7a is support as a percentage of the Recipient’s available income

If you checked Box 1 or Box 3 in 1b, put N/A in 7a.

If you checked Box 2 in 1b,

  • Divide 6h, Payor’s adjusted net share of support, by 2f Recipient’s available income.
    • If 2f Recipient’s available income is $0, put 100% in 7a.
  • To get the percentage, multiply that number by 100.
  • Use the nearest whole number. You do not need any numbers to the right of the decimal point.
  • Put that final number in 7a.

Line 7b is the Payor’s final support obligation

7b changes the Payor’s weekly support amount only in cases where the Recipient has a relatively high income and the Payor has a relatively low income.

If 7a is N/A, put the amount in 6h in 7b.

If 7a is greater than or equal to 10%, put the amount in 6h or $25, whichever is more.

If 7a is less than 10%,

  • Add 10% to the percentage in 7a
  • Multiply that percentage by the Payor’s “available income” in the Payor’s column of 2f.
  • If the answer is less than the amount in 6h, put that amount in 7b. Otherwise, put the amount from 6h or $25, whichever is higher.

Section 8 Additional Income Above $4,808

Judges use this section if they decide to change the child support amount when the parents’ “combined available income” is over $4,808 per week.

Note

If you use a computer, the Worksheet calculates each parent’s share of their “combined additional income” automatically and puts the answer in 6b.

Line 8a is the amount of combined available income over the $4,808 per week maximum

  • If the combined available income in 2g is less than $4,808, leave 8a and 8b blank.
  • If the combined available income in 2g is greater than $4,808, subtract $4,808 from the amount in 2g and put the answer in 8a.

Line 8b shows the shares of available income for the Payor and the Recipient above the $4,808 per week maximum considered under the Guidelines

  • Multiply 8a by the percentage in the Recipient’s column of 2h.
  • Put the answer in the Recipient’s box in 8b, Recipient’s “share of combined additional income.”
  • Multiply 8a by the percentage in the Payor’s column of 2h.
  • Put the answer in the Payor’s box in 8b, Payor’s “share of combined additional income.

See

Endnotes

1 The Child Support Guidelines, page 10, for more information about child support for children between 18 and 23.

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