Friday, April 25, 2014

Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines and Shared Parenting: The National Trend Toward Shared Income and Shared Parenting Models (Part Two of Ten)

Beginning with the 2009 overhaul, Massachusetts has been part of a national trend toward a shared income model as the favored child support guidelines model, and specifically away from models that focus primarily or solely on the obligor’s income. The first child support guidelines for the 50 states and the District of Columbia began about 25 years ago (ours was in 1987).

By 1990, there were already 31 states with shared income models, but also 15 states with percentage of obligor’s income shares models, known simply as percentage of income models, two jurisdictions with guidelines based primarily on percentage of income models, but with modifications and thus called hybrid models (Massachusetts and DC), and three states with Melson formula models.  For more detailed information about the guidelines models in use throughout the U.S., see economist and child support expert Jane Venohr's recent article in the Family Law Quarterly, Vol. 47, No. 3 (Fall 2013), "Child Support Guidelines and Guidelines Reviews: State Differences and Common Issues" available here to ABA members.

By the end of 2013, both of the hybrid model jurisdictions, Massachusetts and DC, had moved to shared income models, and six states with straight percentage of income models had also moved to shared income models. Consequently, the new totals, as of the end of 2013, according to Venohr, are now as follows: 39 jurisdictions with shared income models, 9 with percentage of income models, and 3 with Melson formula models (hybrid models are gone altogether).

Massachusetts has also been part of the trend toward more recognition, and accounting for, “non-traditional” (to use the old language) cases of joint custody and split custody. Massachusetts is one of four states that in 1999 had no shared parenting formulas but now do, bringing the total of jurisdictions with shared parenting formulas from 30, in 1999, to 34 today, again according to Venohr.

Massachusetts, which adopted its first shared parenting formula, as well as its similar split custody formula, in the 2009 Guidelines, is one of the two states that adopted this new shared parenting formula as part of a simultaneous move to a shared income model for child support. Massachusetts thus provides a good illustration of both of these national trends, the one toward shared income as the favored child support guidelines model, and the other toward greater recognition and explicit treatment of shared parenting situations.
In Part Three, I will discuss that giant leap of the 2009 Guidelines.

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