News from the Courts

Issue August 2013

New Child Support Guidelines effective Aug. 1

Former Chief Justice Robert A. Mulligan announced the promulgation of revised Child Support Guidelines effective on Aug. 1, 2013, based on a comprehensive review by the Child Support Guidelines Task Force. The task force that conducted the review, which is required every four years, was chaired by Chief Justice Paula M. Carey.

The Child Support Guidelines are used by trial court judges in setting temporary, permanent or final orders for current child support, in deciding whether to approve agreements for child support, and in deciding cases that are before the court to modify existing orders.

Key changes made to the guidelines include:

  • Income from means tested benefits such as SSI, TAFDC and SNAP are excluded for both parties from the calculation of their support obligations.
  • Availability of employment at the attributed income level must be considered in attribution of income cases.
  • The text makes clear that all, some or none of the income from secondary jobs or overtime may be considered by the court, regardless of whether this is new income or was historically earned prior to dissolution of the relationship.
  • Reference is made to the 2011 Alimony Reform Act; the text does not, however, provide a specific formula or approach for calculating alimony and child support in cases where both may be appropriate.
  • Clarification is given as to how child support should be allocated between the parents where their combined income exceeds $250,000.
  • A new formula is provided for calculating support where parenting time and expenditures are less than equal (50/50) but more than the assumed standard split of two thirds/one third.
  • Guidance and clarification is given in the area of child support over the age of 18 where appropriate. While the guidelines apply, the court may consider a child's living arrangements and post-secondary education. Contribution to post-secondary education may be ordered after consideration of several factors set forth in the guidelines and such contribution must be considered in setting the weekly support order, if any.
  • The standard for modification is clarified to reflect the recent Supreme Judicial Court decision in Morales v. Morales, 464 Mass. 507 (2013).
  • Circumstances justifying a deviation are expanded to include extraordinary health insurance expenses, child care costs that are disproportionate to income or when a parent is providing less than one-third parenting time.

The review process included input from the public and the bar, and reviewed case files, economic analysis, as well as judicial and staff commentary.

SJC approves trial court strategic plan to launch implementation effort

The Justices of the Supreme Judicial Court have announced approval of the strategic plan developed by the Massachusetts Trial Court and the launch of the implementation phase. The strategic plan will guide the trial court as it works to address current and future needs of the judiciary in serving the people of Massachusetts. It includes a series of tactics to be implemented in stages and sets forth transparent success measures to guide and assess the progress. A Strategic Leadership Team has been formed to oversee the implementation of the action plans. The overall plan was developed with the support of the state's Division of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance (DCAMM).

The umbrella strategies, "One Mission: Justice with Dignity and Speed," guide the tactical plans and decision making in the areas of governance and communications, facilities improvement, workforce development, technology enhancements, process improvement and innovative practices. Tactics for each of these areas are identified in the plan. Visit to view the plan.

Changes to Rule 412 of the supplemental rules of the Probate and Family Court

The changes were recommended by the Probate and Family Court Bench/ Bar Committee on Rules, circulated for comment, approved by then Chief Justice Paula M. Carey and approved and promulgated by the Supreme Judicial Court.

The changes to Rule 412 allow parties to jointly request modification of a judgment or order of the Probate and Family Court where the parties are in agreement, the agreement is in writing, and all other requirements of the rule are met. The changes to the rule will allow the Probate and Family Court to handle more cases administratively.