Modifying child support means changing the original details of an existing child support order. However, in order to successfully obtain a modification there must be a change in circumstances for one or both of the parents. A change in custody, a change in physical or mental health or a change in job status could all potentially be factors in modifying child support. Most commonly the change in circumstance has to do with either an increase or decrease in income for one of the parties, such as a job loss.
Only the court can change or modify an existing child support agreement. The rules set forth in the Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines determine the amount of increase or decrease in child support payments. The Guidelines take into account a number of factors in determining any change, including:
- Each parent’s wages
- The ages and number of children
- The cost of health insurance for the children
In the complaint (petition) for modification, the petitioner will want to assemble the following information:
- A Financial Statement form provided by the Probate and Family court which details your current income and expenses, debts and liabilities
- A statement of current child support payments and arrears (if any) from the Department of Revenue Child support enforcement Division (if support is being collected thru this agency)
- If employed, payroll stubs for the previous six weeks
- Copies of the previous year’s federal and state income tax filings
- Proof of health insurance coverage and payment for your children
- Daytime phone numbers where you can be reached
Once a complaint has been filed with the court and a copy has been provided to the other party, a hearing date will be reserved. During the hearing, the judge’s controlling factor will be whatever is in the best interest of the child, while taking into account any change in circumstance of the payor or the payee. Massachusetts also has child support guidelines the court will use when making a decision, which will play a significant factor in determining the changes to an existing order.
Another important factor will be whether either party has new expenses related to children born after the original child support order entered. The child support guidelines will allow the payor to factor those subsequent expenses into the child support guideline formula when considering a request for an increase in child support. Another factor will be disability benefits received by the payee when the payor subsequently becomes disabled.
A Lawyer Can Help
While a judge will use guidelines to help modify a child support order, Massachusetts law gives a judge discretion to order payments both above and below the recommended guideline amount. In addition, unless the petitioner can show the court that a change in circumstances has occurred, the court will not modify an existing order. This means a petitioner would be wise to seek the assistance of an experienced family law attorney to help clearly show the reason modification is necessary.