When parents of minor children separate or divorce, the court may require one parent to make regular child support payments to the other. However, the factors and circumstances supporting the court’s order can change over time. When this happens, a parent can return to court to request modification of child support obligations. Modification requires showing a material change in the family’s circumstances and/or that the Massachusetts Child Support guidelines are no longer being applied due to changes in the parties’ financial circumstances. When you seek modification of your family’s child support order, a family law attorney from LaFountain & Wollman P.C. can guide you through the process and advocate for your and your child’s interests. 

Understanding Child Support in Massachusetts

In Massachusetts, the court may order a parent to make financial payments to their child’s other parent after separation or divorce. These payments reflect the parent’s legal obligation to support their child financially. Child support payments help the receiving parent pay for the child’s shelter, food, clothing, healthcare, education, and recreation. 

In child custody arrangements that do not provide for equal parenting time, the parent primarily responsible for caring for the child (typically, the parent who exercises custody for a majority of overnights during the year) becomes the custodial parent, with the child’s other parent becoming the noncustodial parent. In most of these cases, the noncustodial parent makes child support payments to the custodial parent. 

The amount of a child support obligation will depend on various factors, such as the family’s parenting schedule, the number of children involved, and each parent’s income or earning capacity. The Massachusetts Probate and Family Court issues child support guidelines that courts use to calculate a child support amount. However, courts can deviate from the guidelines in various circumstances, such as when parents earn high incomes or when a child has unique financial needs, if they determine doing so serves the child’s best interests.

Grounds for Modification of Child Support

After a court issues a child support order, a family’s circumstances may change enough that the order no longer reflects current realities. When circumstances change, a parent or both parents can file a motion or complaint to modify the child support order. Some of the most common reasons why one or both parents might seek to modify child support obligations include:

  • The current support amount no longer reflects the amount recommended by the child support guidelines
  • Increases in the child’s health insurance or medical care expenses
  • Significant changes in a parent’s income
  • A parent can no longer work due to disabilities or chronic health conditions
  • Health insurance previously unavailable to a parent has become available
  • The family’s custody arrangement has changed, such as parents switching the custodial parent role or a change in the split of overnight parenting time

The Process of Modifying Child Support Obligations

Modifying child support obligations begins with filing a complaint for modification with the court that issued your family’s existing child support order. In many cases, complaints for modification get filed in response to complaints for contempt filed when a parent fails to make child support payments. Parents may also file complaints for modification in connection with complaints to modify the custody arrangement or parenting schedule. 

The court will schedule a hearing on the complaint for modification. At the hearing, a judge will review the current child support order, hear the parents’ testimony concerning changes in the family’s circumstances, review the parents’ updated financial statements, and calculate a support amount under the child support guidelines. If the court finds that a family’s circumstances have changed since it issued the current child support order or that the current payment amount has deviated from the current guidelines amount, it can issue a new order modifying the child support obligation. 

How an Attorney Can Help with the Child Support Modification Process

Working with a family law attorney can give you the best chance of success when seeking to modify your family’s child support order. A lawyer can help you by:

  • Explaining the modification process to you
  • Investigating your case for evidence of changed circumstances warranting modification
  • Helping you gather information to prepare your financial statements
  • Evaluating your family’s eligibility for modification
  • Preparing and filing your complaint for modification
  • Advocating on your behalf in court during the modification hearing by presenting compelling arguments to demonstrate the necessity of modification

Frequently Asked Questions

Common questions Massachusetts parents have about child support modification include:

What are the differences between temporary and permanent modification?

Courts may grant temporary modifications of child support obligations in response to short-term circumstances, such as medical emergencies or a temporary change to a parent’s income. Conversely, courts issue permanent modifications in response to lasting, significant changes in a family’s circumstances, such as changes to parents’ income, changes to the child’s needs, or modifications to the parenting schedule. 

How long does the child support modification process take?

The length of time it can take to obtain a modification of your family’s child support order will depend on various factors, including the court’s availability and schedule, the complexity of the evidence supporting the modification motion, and how quickly parents submit their financial information. A court may hold a hearing days after receiving a modification motion; however, some motions can take weeks or months to resolve. 

What happens if my child’s other parent won’t agree to a modification?

Either parent can move for modification of the family’s current child support order, even if the other parent objects to modification. The court will hold a hearing on the parent’s motion, where the parent must prove the existence of changed circumstances warranting child support modification. 

Can I modify child support without going to court?

Because the right to child support belongs to the child, not their parents, parents who agree to modify child support amounts must go to court to obtain the judge’s approval and a new enforceable court order. 

Contact a Family Law Attorney Today

When your family’s child support order no longer reflects the realities of your family’s current situation, you can pursue modification. Contact LaFountain & Wollman P.C. today for a confidential consultation with a family law attorney to discuss your and your child’s legal rights and options.