Child Support Frequently Asked Questions

Do I have to pay child support if I have joint custody?
How is child support calculated?

How much child support will I have to pay?

Can child support be changed?

How do I collect child support?

What do I do if my ex stops paying child support?

Can child support be terminated?


Do I have to pay child support if I have joint custody?

Possibly. Generally, all biological parents owe their children a duty of support up to their 18th birthday, up to their 21st birthday if the child continues to live at home and depends on parents for support, or up to their 23rd birthday if the child is in school and has not earned a bachelor's degree. But, if the child has a disability that makes it impossible for them to support themselves, duty owed never goes away. This responsibility is to be borne by both parents not just the father.

The amount of support will depend on the child support guidelines factors and the income of both the mother and the father.

How is child support calculated?

The factors to be considered by the court in setting child support are: (1) relationship to Alimony or separate maintenance payments, (2) claims of personal exemptions for child dependents (3) Minimum and maximum levels, (4) Parenting time, (5) Child Care costs, (6) Age of the children, (7) Health insurance and uninsured medical expenses, (8) other orders and obligations, (9) families with more than five children, and (10) other child-related expenses.

In Massachusetts child support is calculated using the child support guideline worksheet. The factors will either cause an increase or decrease in the support amount ordered.

Parenting time is one of the most important factors because it determines how the worksheet is completed:

The guideline is based on one parent having primary physical custody of the child(ren). When the noncustodial parent’s parenting time is less than one-third, the court can consider ordering more support to the custodial than the worksheet requires.

Where two parents share equally the financial responsibility and parenting time for the child(ren), the worksheet is run twice. First with one parent as the recipient and second with the other parent as the recipient. The difference in the calculations is to be paid to the parent with the lower weekly support amount.

Where parenting time and financial responsibility are shared in a proportion greater than one-third, but less than 50%, the child support guidelines shall be calculated first with one parent as the Recipient, and second as if the parties shared custody equally. The average of the base child support and the shared custody cross calculation shall be the child support amount paid to the Recipient.

Note: if combined gross income of the parties is over $250,000 then the guideline does not apply. The court will have discretion to grant child support.

Note: a minimum of $80 a month may be ordered by the court if the responsible parent is making $150 per week or less. But the court is allowed to order an amount higher or lower depending on the circumstances.

How much child support will I have to pay?

As stated above it will depend on the income of both parties, the child support worksheet and any applicable factors.

A minimum of $80 a month may be ordered by the court if the responsible parent is making $150 per week or less. But the court is allowed to order an amount higher or lower depending on the circumstances.

Can child support be changed?

Yes, child support can be modified if: (1) there is an inconsistency between the amount of the existing order and the amount that would result from the application of the child support guidelines; (2) health insurance previously available at reasonable cost is no longer available (or if available but not at reasonable cost); (3) health insurance not previously available to a party at reasonable cost has become available; Or (4) any other material and substantial change in circumstances has occurred.

Examples of material and substantial change in circumstances are if the paying or receiving parent is laid off from work, if the child is emancipated, etc.

How do I collect child support?

Child support is usually ordered to be paid through the Department of Revenue (DOR).  The amount that is ordered is taken out of the non-custodial parent's pay by the employer and sent directly to DOR. This is called a wage assignment. DOR sends the child support it receives to the custodial parent. DOR keeps a record of all payments it receives from the non-custodial parent and sends to the custodial parent.

Note: it takes DOR about a month to setup the wage assignment, so until payment is collected through DOR, the non-custodial parent will have to pay the child support directly to the custodial parent.

What do I do if my ex stops paying child support?

You should contact your lawyer and inform her/him of the nonpayment. It is important to let your attorney know since you may be able to initiate a court action for contempt against the parent not paying child support.  Their willful disobedience of the judgment for child support constitutes a contempt of court. DOR will file the complaint and serve it if you are receiving TAFDC or if you make a written request for their services.

DOR can also collect overdue child support without going to court. These are called administrative remedies and include taking the non-custodial parent’s federal and state income tax refunds or driver’s license.

Can child support be terminated?

Yes, Child support can be terminated upon the child’s emancipation or death. The separation agreement or any agreement by the parties regarding child support can indicate when a child is considered emancipated. Usually there are situations in which a child, they are: (1) the child turns 18 or 3 months after high school graduation, if a child does not plan on going to college, (2) age 23 if child is a full-time student or at the completion of such school, whichever occurs first, (3) marriage of the child, (4) child has a permanent residence away from the custodial parent (note: this does not include camp, boarding school or college), (5) entry into Military, or (6) child is has full-time employment after the age of 18 (note: this does not include summer jobs).

The parent seeking termination must file a petition with the court to terminate child support, it does not terminate automatically even if more than one of the above applies.