The New Child Support Calculations
On August 1, 2013, Massachusetts adopted new child support guidelines. There have been articles written on the “new child support guidelines” relative to the calculation of child support. These guidelines in addition to changing the formula for how the calculation of child support is to be made, added a change in the calculation of child support based on the parenting time each parent has with the children. The Guidelines before this time did not calculate the parenting time in assessment of child support in any meaningful way.
The child support guidelines added categories of parenting time that affect the way support is calculated. Parenting time becomes a factor when the non-custodial parent has parenting time greater than one-third, but less than 50%. The child support is calculated first with one parent as the Recipient, and second as if the parties shared custody equally. The average of the base child support and shared custody cross calculation shall be the child support amount paid to the Recipient.
The guidelines also added a category for the calculation of child support when the parenting time is “shared equally or approximately equally”. In this circumstance the child support shall be determined by calculating the child support guidelines twice, first with one parent as Recipient, and second with the other parent as the Recipient. “The difference in the calculations shall be paid to the parent with the lower weekly support amount”.
However, the Guidelines provided virtually no guidance on how to calculate the time that is included as parenting time. Does it include sleeping hours, night time visits, time spent in daycare when on a visit with a parent. This has been somewhat problematic for attorneys practicing family law, and has led to client resources being spent on parenting time calculations that could more easily be resolved if the guidelines would provide more guidance on the time that is to be considered parenting time for purposes of the calculation.
In order to interpret statutes, lawyers look to cases that set precedent though opinions of the Massachusetts Appeals Court and Supreme Court. As one may imagine issues that need to be clarified at the trial court level, of which the Family Court is one, do not get clarified, until the Mass Appeals Court addresses them. In order for that to happen, the appeal from a lower court must wind its way through the appeals process. Since the adoption of the new guidelines in August of 2013 the issue of the interpretation of what is to be considered or further explanation of what constitutes parenting time has not been decided by the Appeals Court or Supreme Court. Therefore attorneys are left to argue these issues to Judges at the Family Court and appeal to the Judge’s discretion in such matters. Of course this often does not lead to the most effect use of client resources on such issues.
In the event that there are very young children who are the subject of support orders, it makes sense to direct client resources to these arguments. However where the children are older and where a child support obligation may soon be dropping off, it may make more sense to spend less client resources on these issues, especially if attorney fees, used to contest this issue will exceed the child support to be paid or saved. Often client’s would rather have their resources used for support rather than attorney’s fees especially where the difference in support is not great or the termination of support for older children is soon to happen.
It is important for Counsel to explain the differences in the support calculations based on parenting time and effectively counsel client’s on the most economical use of their resources when addressing this issue. Remember not to be penny wise and pound foolish when the issue of parenting time enters the child support equation.