Modification of Child Support During Pandemic

MODIFICATION OF CHILD SUPPORT DURING PANDEMIC

So, what do you do, in the time of Covid-19, if you’ve lost your job and are subject to a child support order that you can no longer pay? You realize the tremendous pressure you are under because your income had been reduced and you understand the hardship that reducing your support payments will have on your former spouse and children.

Ideally, you and your spouse are able to discuss the situation and reach a compromise. A good place to start is to complete the Massachusetts Child Support Guideline worksheet based upon your and your former-spouse’s current income. According to Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 208, Sec. 28, there is a rebuttable presumption that the guideline figure will be the appropriate amount of the Court order. The worksheet can be found at the following link: https://www.mass.gov/info-details/child-support-guidelines#2018-guidelines,-forms,-and-information.

However, should you be unable to find a solution on your own, it may make sense to introduce a mediator or collaborative team to the conversation. This can be done via teleconference or videoconference while still maintaining social distancing.

If an agreement is reached, either by yourselves or through mediation or collaborative process, the written agreement, a joint modification petition and current financial statements of both parties, may be submitted to the Court. Although the Courts are temporarily closed for most non-emergency matters, the Judge may entertain a request to enter a Judgment of Modification, adopting your Agreement, without anyone having to appear at the Court. Probate and Family Court Standing Order 2-20.

It is important to understand that Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 119A, Section 3 provides that a child support judgment can only be retroactively modified back to the date of service of a Complaint for Modification upon the other party. Therefore, it is important to file and serve your Complaint for Modification as soon as possible. By doing so you are setting the parameters of retroactivity. This is also true now, while the Court’s doors are closed to all but emergency hearings, because the Clerk’s Office will still accept such a pleading for filing. Although the Court likely will not act on the Complaint during the coronavirus pandemic, when the declaration of emergency lifts and the Courts reopen to usual business, the Judge has the ability to retroactively modify child support to the date of service of the Complaint.

Filing a Complaint for Modification to establish a date for retroactive relief should not be viewed as shutting the door to settlement. It would probably be a good idea to reach out to your former spouse, before serving him/her, to discuss your job loss and your desire to work toward settlement while explaining the need to file and serve the Modification Complaint. This may soften the blow and make settlement more likely. However, it is important to file and serve as soon as possible to safeguard your rights.

Lastly, if you and your former spouse plan to informally agree to change the child support obligation without changing the underlying court orders, be advised that you do so at your own peril. In the opinion of Quinn v. Quinn, 49 Mass. App. Ct. 144 (2000), a written agreement to lower child support was not a defense to a later Complaint for Contempt, as the orders were not changed. The basis of the opinion was the prohibition, contained in MGL Ch. 119A, Sec. 3, that child support orders can only be modified to the date of service of the Complaint. As no Complaint for Modification had been filed, the Court could not retroactively modify the order and the payor spouse was found in contempt of the child support order despite having complied with the written agreement. Point being – if you make an agreement to modify child support you should change the Court orders!

Virtual Mediation and Collaborative Process

March 31, 2020

I hope you are managing well during this trying period. Social distancing creates new stressors that impact every member of every family and household – isolation, child-care responsibilities, lay-offs, medical issues, anxiety and fear, etc. Of course, for those households and families that were already suffering from conflict and division before the arrival of Covid-19, the impacts may be aggravated.

Through tele-conferencing and video-conferencing, mediation and collaborative process are dispute resolution methods that you and your spouse/partner can use to address the conflicts that you are experiencing now, such as changes to the parenting schedule, child exchange or finances. And, if you were already contemplating or in the midst of divorce, though video and tele-conferencing, mediation and collaborative process can be used now to begin or continue settlement negotiations while the courts are essentially and temporarily closed (except as to emergency and agreed-upon matters).

If you would like more information about these virtual options, please call or send me an email. I am checking the phone messages and emails daily.

Stay healthy.

Scott

 

new alimony calculations based on length of marriage

The Durational Limits of General Term Alimony

In 2011, the Alimony Reform Act was passed to put an end to indefinite awards of alimony. Under the Act, the duration of alimony awards is generally limited to a period of months measured as a percentage of the number of years of the marriage.

So, the updated calculations are:

For a Marriage of 5 years or less:
50% of the number of months of the marriage

Marriages over 5 years and up to 10 years:
60% of the number of months of the marriage Read More

child support college tuition guidelines MA

Child Support and College Tuition

As you may be aware of, Massachusetts child support laws do not remove the onus of paying child support once a child reaches the age of 18. And, if a child is planning to attend college, the cost of tuition also becomes a factor involving both parents. Many questions swirl around this common household situation such as “Does paying tuition change the amount of support paid?”, “Are both parents expected to kick in equally?” and so on. Here are some of the most frequently asked questions on this sometimes sticky issue:

Read More