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How does income determine child support payments?

Child support is a monetary amount based on a calculation by Massachusetts family courts, which is intended to cover the economic needs of a child after a divorce, or if the parents are unmarried and living in separate households. Payments are made to the custodial parent who provides the primary residence for the child. Child support ensures both that the child's needs are met and that the parents are jointly involved in caring for the child.

Massachusetts family courts calculate the amount of child support based on the parents' income, so it is important that parents record their incomes correctly. Additionally, the court wants to ensure that the child's standard of living doesn't suffer by ensuring that the parents pay support proportionate to their levels of income. It's important to remember that child support covers not only the child's basic needs, but also costs of extracurricular activities and entertainment.

A parent's income is any gross income recognized by the IRS, the IRC and the Department of Revenue. The court uses employment income as well as other forms of income, such as (but not limited to): commissions, annuities and pensions, workers' compensation benefits or unemployment compensation, military pay or veteran's benefits, and distributions from trust accounts. Public assistance that either parent might be receiving is not considered income.

Wages earned from working overtime or from a secondary job may be included in the support calculations. The court reviews the history of the parents' wages to determine how often they are expected to be available, and might include some, all, or none of the wages earned in overtime or from a second job. Parents who are self-employed should calculate their gross income minus business-related expenses in order to determine the correct amount. The court may consider modifying the payment amount if a parent experiences a significant change in income or the child's needs change.

Divorce is often a painful experience for families that leads to major changes for children. It's important that certain aspects of the child's life stay the same to help the child adjust. Child support can offer some help in maintaining a child's sense of normalcy during a difficult time.

Source: The Commonwealth of Massachusetts Office of the Chief Justice, "Child Support Guidelines," accessed on Sept. 12, 2014

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