Overview of child support in Massachusetts

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Massachusetts Law Reform Institute

Children have the right to financial support from both parents. It does not matter if the parents are married, divorced, separated, or never married.

If a parent doesn’t live with their child, the court can order that parent to pay child support to the other parent, or to another person responsible for taking care of the child. 

Child support helps pay for your child's: 

  • Housing, 
  • Health insurance and medical costs, 
  • Childcare costs, 
  • Education costs, and
  • Food and clothing.
How do I get a child support order?

You get a child support order by first filling out court forms. 

After you fill out and file the right forms, you will go to a court hearing. At the hearing, the judge decides about child support by making a child support order. A child support order says how much a parent must pay for child support. It says when to pay, how often, and for how long. The child support order is in writing and signed by the judge.

If you don’t have a lawyer, the Court Service Center can help you fill out the forms. You can get help from the Court Service Center by phone or Zoom. Or, you can get help in person at 7 courthouses in Massachusetts.

You can also apply for child support services from the Department of Revenue - Child Support Enforcement Division. (DOR/CSE) can prepare the court forms and file them. See Getting help with child support from DOR.


If your child's other parent is dangerous and has abused you or your child, you may want to think carefully about filing for child support. See Child support when the other parent has abused you.

If you do not feel safe because of the other parent, and DOR is helping you, tell DOR. And tell them you do not want the other parent to know where you live.
If you are a survivor of domestic violence, you can also ask that DOR not seek child support at all. 

The type of forms to file depends on whether you are married to the child's other parent, and whether you are asking the court for orders in addition to child support. Get instructions on filing for child support if:

How much will the child support order be?

Usually, the amount of a child support order is based on the income and expenses of both parents. Income includes unreported and undocumented income.

Judges use the Child Support Guidelines Worksheet to figure out how much child support to order. The minimum child support order is $12 a week.

Child support is not paid directly to the child. It is paid to the person who is taking care of the child. Even if you give a child money or gifts, you still need to pay the amount of child support in the child support order to the person who is taking care of the child.

Learn more about how much child support a judge will order.

Ready to ask for child support? Learn more about how to fill out the Child Support Guidelines Worksheet.

Can a child support order be changed?

Yes. But the court can only change the order if:

  • A parent’s income has changed, 
  • Certain expenses for taking care of your child have changed, or 
  • A parent’s health insurance choices have changed.

It does not matter if you pay child support or you get child support. If either parent’s life has changed in any of these three ways, you can ask the court to modify the order.

You ask the court to change the order by filing a complaint to modify a child support order.

Learn more about when you can change a child support order, and what kind of changes you can ask for.

If you are ready to start a case to change the order, see How to change a child support order in court.

Do we need a child support order? What if the parents want to work something out without the court?

Parents can always work out a child support arrangement without a court order. If the parents can work cooperatively, this may make sense. Sometimes there are reasons to do this. For example, keeping a good relationship between the parents.

But here are a few things to think about if you work something out without a court order.

  • Do a child support guidelines worksheet, so you know how much child support a court would order a parent to pay. This may make it easier to agree on an amount without a court order.
  • Put your agreement in writing, so it is clear what each parent needs to do.
  • Try to make sure the payments are by check or money order, so there is clear evidence of payment. If you pay in cash, write up a receipt.
  • If you do not have a court order and a parent doesn't make the agreed-upon payments, you can't bring a contempt action in Probate and Family Court. You may be able to sue for a broken contract, but this is difficult and not always successful.
  • Without a court order for child support, you can't get the child support payments deducted from payroll.

Even if you first work out a child support arrangement without a court order, you can go to court later to get a child support order. You may be able to ask for back child support if the agreement you reached was not honored.

Are child support and parenting time or visitation connected?

The court orders parenting time or visitation when it is in the best interests of the child. Paying child support does not automatically give you parenting time or visitation with the child. Not paying child support does not automatically stop parenting time or visitation.

But the amount of child support a parent must pay may differ if the parents share parenting time more or less equally, or if one the child lives with one parent for about ⅔ of the time.

What about health insurance?

When a judge orders child support, they also order the parents to provide health insurance. The judge can order either parent to provide health insurance. The parent who pays child support is not always the parent who provides health insurance. Learn more about health insurance and child support.

What happens if the other parent has other children to support?

Your children have the right to get child support. That is the law even when the other parent supports other children that are not yours. 

The “non-custodial parent” is the parent who pays the child support. They are also called a “payor.”

The judges use the Child Support Guidelines Worksheet to figure out child support. If there is another child support order in place, payors subtract the amount that they pay for the support of other children from their income on the Child Support Guidelines Worksheet. After the other expenses are subtracted, the rest of the income is used to figure child support for your child.

The other parent isn't obeying the child support order. What can I do?

If a parent isn’t paying the court-ordered child support, you can ask the court to enforce a child support order, or you can ask the Department of Revenue Child Support Enforcement Division (DOR/CSE) for help.

Courts can enforce child support orders by holding the nonpaying parent in contempt of court. If the court decides a parent is in contempt because they did not pay child support, the judge can force that parent to pay the money, get a job, or go to jail. This decision is a “Judgment of Contempt.”

Learn more at How do I ask the court to enforce a child support order?

DOR/CSE can enforce child support orders in many ways, including:

  • Collecting overdue child support.
  • Levying your bank account.
  • Charging interest and penalties.
  • Increasing the amount withheld from your paycheck by 25%.
  • Placing a lien on your real estate or personal property.
  • Seizing your personal property.
  • Suspending your license.
  • Intercepting your tax refunds.
  • Making it hard to get credit.
  • Filing a Complaint for Contempt.

Learn more at How does DOR make sure a parent pays child support.

How does child support get to the custodial parent?

When the court makes a child support order, it also orders that the child support payments be made by "income assignment" through the Department of Revenue. This means that the employer of the person paying child support deducts the child support from the paying parent's paycheck and sends it to the DOR. The DOR then sends the child support to the custodial parent. If the custodial parent gets TAFDC, DOR sends most of the child support to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. It sends $50 per month to the custodial parent.

Income assignments are required by law. An income assignment may, however, be suspended by agreement of the parties or order of the court.

Learn more from DOR's Information for Parents who Pay Child Support brochure.

Can I get both alimony and child support?

Maybe. In 2022, the Supreme Judicial Court issued a decision in a case called Cavanagh vs. Cavanagh which made some changes to when a parent must pay both child support and alimony. Now, a judge must follow three steps in deciding whether and how much alimony and child support to order:

  1. If a parent is eligible for alimony, the court should first calculate how much the alimony order would be. Then, the court should calculate how much the child support order would be using the parents' post alimony incomes.
  2. Next, the court should make another set of calculations. This time, the court should calculate how much the child support order would be without alimony being paid or received. After calculating what the child support order would be, the court should then consider how much the alimony order would be.
  3. Finally, the court must compare the orders and tax consequences of situation one (alimony calculated first) with the orders and tax consequences in situation two (child support calculated first). The court should then issue an order with alimony and child support amounts that are most equitable for everyone. If the court decides not to order alimony, it must explain why not.
DOR has suspended my driver's license or put a stop on my bank account. What can I do?
What if there is domestic violence?

There are some special things to keep in mind if there has been domestic violence. Learn more about child support and domestic violence.

What if I am on TAFDC?

While you are on TAFDC, DTA will keep most of the child support that is paid by the other parent. DTA will send you the first $50 a month. DTA will keep the rest of the monthly child support to pay themselves back for the TAFDC you are getting.

Learn more at TAFDC child support rules.

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Child Support: Get help filling out forms

The Court Service Centers can help you fill out court forms related to child support, by Zoom or in person.

Some Probate Courts have Lawyer for the Day programs. Contact the court directly to see if your court has one.

Learn more about finding a lawyer.


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