Thursday, April 24, 2014

Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines and Shared Parenting: Introduction (Part One of Ten)

Recently I have been researching the Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines and their history since the first Massachusetts support guidelines of 1987, and have been comparing them with child support guidelines in other states. That is mainly because I have a journal article or two in the works and will be presenting a workshop "Shared Parenting and Child Support: Formulas, Incentives and Consequences" at the annual conference of the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts (AFCC) in Toronto, May 28-31. The theme of this year's conference is shared parenting, and my particular workshop, at the last session on the last day of the conference, is entitled "Shared Parenting and Child Support: Formulas, Incentives and Consequences." Here's the brochure's description:
The workshop will explore the range of child support models being used across the country, including income share models, percentage of income models, and Melson Formula models, and how they affect, and are affected by, decisions about shared parenting. The workshop will explore the relationship between child support guidelines and child custody determinations, and the often attendant challenges related to the inevitable incentives to increase or decrease either of the dependent variables of child support and child parenting time in order to influence the other.
Through my recent research, I have learned a lot about the Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines and how they compare to the guidelines of other states. I already knew quite a bit about the Massachusetts guidelines, of course, as I regularly use them in my practice as a Massachusetts family law attorney. But now I have a broader perspective, after having examined the guidelines and practices of other jurisdictions in some detail. Aided by that new perspective, I am beginning with this blog a ten-part series about the Massachusetts Child Support guidelines, their history, and particularly their recent evolution in response to the national trend in favor of shared income models for child support guidelines, and the national trend in development of specific provisions and policies to recognize and foster shared parenting. 

The latest Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines, effective August 1, 2013, continue a trend toward greater emphasis on shared income and shared parenting, begun with the last quadrennial child support guidelines revision of 2009, which was, in contrast to prior guidelines, the first “extensive overhaul” of the guidelines’ principles and formulas, following the mere “tinkering” of earlier guidelines revisions, as William and Chouteau Levine have put it. The early guidelines, from 1987 through 2005, only considered what was then called the “traditional” case, where there was a custodial parent and a noncustodial parent. 

Any shared parenting or split parenting situations, as they were not specifically addressed in the guidelines, were then commonly referred to as “outside the guidelines” and thus their treatment, for purposes of child support determinations, was left in the complete discretion of the court. The primary purpose of this ten-part series of blogs is to focus on our own recent history, particularly our evolving principles of shared income and shared parenting, and ultimately to critically examine the 2013 Guidelines as they represent the latest awkward step our Commonwealth has taken, after the first, giant leap of the 2009 Guidelines, to incorporate our evolving principles of shared income and shared parenting into our child support determinations.
In Part Two, I will discuss the evolution of our guidelines in relation to national trends.
For information about Massachusetts divorce and family law, see the divorce and family law page of my law firm website.

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