Children in Massachusetts must be supported by both parents. The child support guidelines, last updated on September 15th 2017, aim to reduce the economic impact on the child’s standard of living and to promote joint parental responsibility for child support. The child support guidelines are calculated using a fillable worksheet including both parent’s incomes and deductions for certain expenses. Unless there is an extraordinary reason why the guidelines calculation should not apply, the worksheet calculated amount will apply.
Child support is an order of the court and cannot be modified unless a request for modification citing a material change in circumstances is properly brought before the judge. Absent extraordinary circumstances, the only way to change your child support obligation is to file at the time of the change of circumstances a Modification Complaint in the probate and family court. However, if the issue of child support is properly before the court, the court must use the Child Support Guidelines.
If you do not pay your child support, arrears will accrue, as will interest and penalties. These add up quickly and can only be lowered with a new order or creation of a payment plan. The Department of Revenue has enforcement actions available to it, which can be quite extensive.
The applicable statute for child support is Massachusetts General Laws chapter 208 section 28 (MGL c. 208 § 28). If your child is over 18 and there is a child support order, you owe child support. Children are entitled to child support until they reach age 23, so long as he/she meets certain requirements. The statute says the court may order child support when a child is 18-21 so long as he/she is “domiciled in the home of a parent, and is principally dependent upon said parent for maintenance.”
When the child turns 21, the court may order child support if he/she is “domiciled in the home of a parent, and is principally dependent upon said parent for maintenance due to the enrollment of such child in an educational program, excluding educational costs beyond an undergraduate degree.” The statute does not require such education to be full-time college, but is purposefully vague on this topic.
To simplify it:
If child is age 18 – 21, lives with parent and principally dependent = child support
If child is age 21-23, lives with parent, principally dependent, and enrolled in education = child support
Keep in mind that simplifying may be too simple and there may be times when the facts must be uncovered to determine principal dependence and enrollment in education.