Factors to Consider when Preparing a Child Support Agreement

If you are going through a divorce and you and your former spouse have children, ensuring that their financial needs are met is generally of utmost concern. There can be a wide variety of factors to consider when preparing a child support agreement outside of the base child support calculation.

A skilled child support attorney can help you establish what the appropriate amount of child support would be in your case while adhering to the guidelines established by the state of Massachusetts. With over 25 combined years of exclusive family law experience, we know how to navigate this process and what terms should be included in an arrangement so that all parties are taken care of.

How the Courts Assess Child Support

In Massachusetts, the amount of child support that a court can order the non-custodial parent to pay is based on each party’s annual earnings. Earnings may include direct income as well as benefits such as social security or investments. The judge will assess the amount of support that one parent must pay by determining each party’s financial contribution to their total combined earnings.

What are the Necessary Costs to Consider in Child Support?

It is critical that when discussing child support agreements to factor in all the necessary costs that could foreseeably arise while raising a child. Therefore, a stipulation should also discuss how expenses such as the child’s health insurance, uninsured medical care, and schooling will be handled. This agreement also should include how the general day-to-day expenses associated with your child’s care, such as the cost of hiring a nanny or daycare or extracurricular activities (i.e., sports, clubs, tutoring, etc.).

If the primary residence parent is moving far away and making transportation costs higher for the other parent to be able to see the children, there may be a reduction in the child support to help make up for the costs of the transportation or there may need to be an agreement for the primary residence parent to cover all or a portion of those costs.

If you do not address some of these important considerations when drafting your child support agreement, you may face significant challenges if you are the parent who becomes financially responsible for the expense that was left out of the agreement. Although child support can be modified at any time the child support calculation would provide a different amount than what the current order is, if you’ve deviated (either increased or decreased) the initial child support order, a later modification can be harder to obtain.  It also might be more difficult to get an order for a parent to pay half of certain expenses if you did not include it in the initial order. Therefore, it is important that you retain legal counsel who could guide you through this process and work to ensure that you prepare a thorough and detailed agreement.

Relevant Provisions to Include in a Support Agreement

Once parents factor in these various costs into their child support agreement, they should include some specific provisions to avoid any ambiguity. This contract should list the exact child support obligation owed, how often one party must make payments, and how the receiving party should obtain their support (i.e., check, money order, direct deposit).  If one party is inconsistent at paying child support or neither party is good at keeping track of payments, then it may be better to have child support go through the Department of Revenue (DOR).  DOR keeps track of payments made, can garnish wages through the payor’s employer so the child support amount immediately gets deducted from their paycheck, if the payor is not paying, DOR can levy bank accounts, withhold tax refunds, or suspend their driver’s license.  If there is a lot of conflict between parents, using DOR can help to alleviate communication about finances as it’s automated, which can be helpful to both sides.

College Costs and Child Support

Although the state can not require parents who are married to contribute toward their children’s college education, if you’re separated, the state can order both parents to pay 50% of the child’s college costs with the cap being the annual tuition and fees paid at a state college (usually using UMass Amherst as the cut-off). This is a very significant expense that many families cannot afford.  Paying for college could increase your child support amount if you’re not paying for college on top of child support or it could decrease your child support if the college expenses are being paid on top of child support.

Terminating Child Support

Child support ends pursuant to a statute.  Even if you agree for child support to terminate at a time other than what the statute says, this is one of the few issues where the statute will trump your agreement. In Massachusetts, once a child graduates high school or turns 18 (whichever happens later), the amount paid in child support for that child is reduced within the calculation.  This is not something that happens automatically, so if one of your kids has turned 18, you may want to contact us to run a base “worst-case” scenario to see if modifying your child support would be best for you at that time.

Whether child support continues is at the discretion of the judge; however, it will almost always continue until the child turns 21 so long as they are residing with the parent receiving the support and principally dependent upon the parents. Only if the child is enrolled in college (or some type of higher learning), will the child support extend to the age of 23. Once the child graduates from college or turns 23, the child is then considered emancipated and child support will be terminated.

Contact an Attorney for Help Drafting Your Child Support Arrangement

While a court has final say on this arrangement, a qualified family law attorney at O’Connor Family Law can explain the factors to consider when preparing a child support agreement. Our attorneys can help you create a document that addresses your financial concerns while serving your child’s best interests. Call today to get more information from an attorney about your options regarding parental financial obligations.

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