Divorce Mediation Blog

2013 Child Support Guidelines Preview Part 4: Where’d It Go?

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

For the first time in the 3-decade history of Child Support Guidelines, the minimum presumptive amounts for payors with up to $250,000.00 of income is lower at many payor income levels. The Final Report of the Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines Quadrennial Review, of the 2012 Task Force, appointed by former Trial Court Chief Justice Robert M. Mulligan explains.

The report states the 2009 CSG amounts were “somewhat high, especially at middle-and-high income levels” (p. 52) as compared to cited economic studies, and to 5 neighboring states. The task force found that:

Relative to neighboring states, the 2009 Guidelines for more than one child are higher in most, but not all cases. (…) For three children, the 2009 Guidelines amounts are comparable to, or just higher than guidelines amounts in neighboring states in most, but not all, cases and likely not after accounting for the presence and handling of child care costs and health insurance.

None of the above comparisons account for the above average income and expenses in Massachusetts, especially the high costs of necessities such as housing, child care, food and health insurance costs experienced by Massachusetts families. From an economic perspective, Guidelines amounts that are higher than the benchmarks are appropriate due to overall higher incomes and child costs in Massachusetts. (p. 56) (emphasis supplied)

[Interestingly, the task force found significant differences in the child support rates in New England for multiple children. While the 2009 Massachusetts CSG inflated by 20% for a second child, Connecticut (34%) and New Hampshire (37%) weighted the second child more than we did, flattening the disparity overall. This resulted in the 2013 CSG increasing the “add-ons” for multiple children.]

Given that conclusion, what should we make of the general reduction in Massachusetts child support standards? The task force does not suggest that costs of living for families have reduced since 2009: it documents the opposite. Nor have these costs dropped relative to our neighbors. Child support payor interests pressing for reductions had representation on the task force that created the 2009 CSG, but did not in 2012. The task force reported no data about the affordability of 2009 CSG for payors or the existence of excess in the lives of recipients.

Child support payors and payees will naturally view these changes differently. For those with sufficient resources to make alimony an issue, the differences in 2013 CSG may well be mitigated by overall family support calculations. But for many other recipients, they may well see less child support than they might have earlier, or even find reductions coming their way in modification proceedings; while the payor’s load is a bit lighter.

As Massachusetts divorce mediators, we need to understand these changes and be prepared to explain them when pertinent, while dealing with disparate client reactions to the perceived fairness or unfairness of the ongoing evolution of child support.

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