Massachusetts Child Support & Parenting Time Calculations
In Massachusetts, the amount of child support is figured based on income only. Parenting time doesn't figure into the basic formula.
If parents are providing "substantially equal care," however, a different formula is used to determine child support amounts. Accurate parenting time numbers can directly affect your child support--whether you pay or receive.
Massachusetts attorneys and judges often rely on parenting time estimates, even if they are incorrect, because counting parenting time is tedious and time consuming. Divorcing parents often rely on these estimates as well.
Using estimates means your parenting time totals are wrong when compared to your actual parenting time schedule. This means your child support amount will not be fair or exact.
To calculate parenting time, the easiest and most accurate way is to use software. Without software, you're forced to add up hours for a whole year, which is error-prone when you include alternating holidays, summer break, and any changes to the schedule throughout the year.
The leading parenting time calculation software, Custody X Change, can calculate your parenting time to see if it was estimated incorrectly.
Using software, you can also tweak your schedule to see how even little changes affect your total parenting time, and you can see how your parenting time changes each year due to holidays and other events.
You can also track what actually happens, and show how much parenting time you've actually received for any period of time. Historical information is a powerful tool when you request a child support modification or when you request more parenting time.
In any divorce, Massachusetts family courts award custody of the children to one or both parents. Custody is divided into legal custody and physical custody.
Massachusetts sole physical custody: The children reside with and are supervised by the residential parent, while the other parent is entitled to visitations. A standard visitation schedule will be set up by the family court if the parents cannot reach an agreement on parenting time.
Massachusetts shared physical custody: Each parent has significant periods of physical custody, which allows them frequent and continuing contact with their children. According to Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines, shared physical custody means that the parenting time is approximately 50/50 between the two parents.
In the basic formula, both parent's incomes are added together, then calculated to determine the basic child support obligation. In Massachusetts, the non-residential parent pays child support to the residential parent.
If your annual parenting time results in an approximate 50/50 split, you may qualify for a different child support formula to be applied to your case. The statues do not define precisely what parenting time percentages constitute "equal" but it is generally considered an approximate 50/50 split.
In these cases, child support is figured by calculating the child support guidelines twice, first with one parent as the recipient, and second with the other parent as the recipient. The difference between the two amounts is paid by the higher earner to the lower earner.
Unlike many other states, Massachusetts gives no automatic parenting time credit that can reduce your child support amount. Section 31 of the Massachusetts General Laws states: “An award of shared legal or physical custody shall not affect a parent's responsibility for child support. An order of shared custody shall not constitute grounds for modifying a support order…”
Accurate parenting time percentages are important because Massachusetts law sets up two different child support formulas to calculate amounts. Your total parenting time percentage must be at or near 50 percent in order to use the joint physical custody formula.
If your parenting time is approximately 50 percent annually, you qualify for the joint physical custody formula. If you use estimates of your parenting time, which are not approximately 50 percent of the time annually, your child support amount may not be fairly calculated.
Consider the hypothetical case of Robert and Mary. Robert grosses $4,000 per month, while Mary grosses $2,400 per month. They have two children.
See how the child support amounts change in these examples:
- Scenario #1: Robert is the non-residential parent, and is scheduled to host the children for less than 50 percent of the year. This case does not qualify for the joint physical custody formula. He is required to pay $1,124 in child support to Mary.
- Scenario #2: Mary is the non-residential parent, and is scheduled to host the children for less than 50 percent of the year. This case does not qualify for the joint physical custody formula. She is required to pay $672 in child support to Robert.
- Scenario #3: Robert and Mary decide on an approximately 50/50 split for parenting time, qualifying their case for the joint physical custody formula. Robert pays $452 in child support to Mary. This is because he is the higher earner.
- Scenario #4: If Robert and Mary earned the same amount of money with a 50/50 parenting time arrangement, there would be no child support paid or received between them.
In Massachusetts, the basic child support formula results in the non-residential parent paying child support to the residential parent. The substantially equal care formula results in the higher earner paying child support to the lower earner.
Massachusetts's child support formula uses the following information to calculate your monthly amounts for joint custody child support:
- The residential parent's monthly gross income, including bonuses and overtime
- The non-residential parent's monthly gross income, including bonuses and overtime
- The number of children under the age of 18, still in high school or enrolled full time in a post-secondary program through age 23
- The cost of any work-related childcare
- The cost of health insurance premiums for the children
- A pre-existing child support or alimony obligation by either parent
Parenting time does not figure into the child support formula. However, you could submit your total parenting time to the court to show whether it is substantially in excess of the standard visitations in Massachusetts.
Paying accurate child support helps your children in several ways, primarily because it ensures their financial needs are met.
Here are some other reasons why accurate overnight numbers help you, the other parent and your children:
- It provides a fair way to determine your child support amounts
- It guarantees the child support amount reflects each parent's responsibilities
- It allows for modifications if your actual time and scheduled time are different
- It is compliant with Massachusetts law
Your financial obligations to your children don't end with divorce, so whether you are paying or receiving child support, you owe it to your children to pay or receive the proper amount.
To ensure you are paying or receiving the right amount of child support in Massachusetts, remember these 5 things:
- Massachusetts figures child support amounts based on a strict income shares formula that includes numbers such as gross monthly income for each parent and health care premiums for the children.
- Massachusetts guidelines do not mention parenting time as a valid claim on deviating from the state guidelines. Any decision to reduce child support is up to the individual family court.
- Massachusetts guidelines do not include parenting time in any of its child support formulas. However, you must have approximately 50/50 parenting time to qualify to use the joint physical custody formula, which generally results in less child support than the basic formula.
- With the basic formula, the non-residential parent generally pays child support to the residential parent. With the joint physical custody formula, the higher earner pays child support to the lower earner.
- If Massachusetts parents have equal pay and participate in substantially equal care custody, child support is generally not awarded to either parent.
Use the Custody X Change software to accurately calculate your total parenting time to present to an Massachusetts family court.