Divorce Mediation Blog

Much Ado About Double Counting: Massachusetts Alimony and Child Support - Part 3

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Previously, we blogged (December 4th and December 11th, 2013) about controversy regarding the interaction between the 2013 Child Support Guidelines (CSG) and M.G.L., chapter 208, section 53(c)(2). Specifically, we explored conflict that appear in applying statutory exclusion of income that has already been used to calculate child support to calculate income for alimony purposes, in tandem with the CSG provision that permits a judge to calculate alimony first, and then child support. In Part 2, we reviewed competing arguments and concluded the conflict is not fatal, and that as divorce mediators, we see the silver lining of a conflict that broadens our clients’ discussion and encourages them to examine the economics and efficiency of their support arrangement more openly and carefully.

We were gratified when reader (we are always glad to hear about readers) and Falmouth Mediation’s, Alan Jacobs, phoned in a fact pattern that that he recently encountered, that resonated with our March 11th entry. With Alan’s permission, we relate the facts, slightly obscured for confidentiality reasons.

After 23 years of marriage a primary care parent earns $225,000.00 per year. A partially disabled non-custodial parent earns $25,000.00 per year. The parties have one child. By calculating the CSG first, the non-custodial parent is to pay $3,016.00 per year as child support. Since the aggregate family income is $250,000.00, the inquiry regarding alimony never occurs because of Section 53(c)(2).

Net result: the custodial parent has $225,000.00 of gross earnings plus $3,016.00 to support a two-person household; and the non-custodial parent lives on a gross $25,000.00 minus $3,016.00 of child support. After 23 years marriage and a disability-impacted income capacity, this literal application of the alimony statute results in an inequitable and unworkable result, in our view.

Alan felt the same way, and he wondered how the result would differ if support were determined, beginning with alimony. Using the .325 mid-range of Section 53(b) the custodial parent has an alimony obligation to the other spouse of $65,000.00 per year. By applying the resulting reallocated income figures ($90,000.00 and $160,000.00) to the CSG, the alimony recipient would pay primary care parent $14,040.00 of annualized child support.

Net result: the custodial parent has $160,000.00 of post-alimony gross earnings plus $14,040.00 of non-taxable child support for a two-person household; and the non-custodial parent lives on a gross $90,000.00 minus $14,040.00 of child support. Using estimated tax rates, the net income split is about $130,000.00 (71.5%) v. $52,000.00 (28.5%).

Which seems fairer to you?

As we said earlier, the CSG does not license confiscatory results, which may well result from application of vastly different income proportions to the alimony statute and child support rules; but don’t we need flexibility to achieve sensible results?

Thanks to Alan Jacobs for his thoughtful input.

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