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Why does Massachusetts use child support ‘guidelines’?

Every state in the country has some legal mechanism to help ensure that a child is supported financially when their parents divorce or separate. Because most states have adopted a uniform set of federal child support laws, many of those systems are similar, though not necessarily identical. In Massachusetts, the family court system uses a process known as the ‘child support guidelines’ to determine how much money a non-custodial parent should pay to support a child. But why do these guidelines exist, and why are they the way they are?

The Supreme Court of Massachusetts appends to the front of the guidelines issued a list of principles that are meant to give people an idea of what the child support guidelines are meant to accomplish. This list is not exhaustive, and there may be other purposes behind the way the guidelines work, but it is certainly representative and can give readers a better understanding of why what some see as a strict system of deciding child support amounts exists.

First of all, according to the State Supreme Court, the guidelines exist to minimize the effect that divorce or separation of parents has on the standard of living that the child experiences, as well as to ensure that each parent takes responsibility for a child financially, in proportion to his or her income. Further, the guidelines are meant to meet a minimum standard of living for children, but also provide them with the standard of living that is enjoyed by their parents. They also exist to place the monetary burden of separation on parents rather than children, to recognize non-monetary contributions those parents may have made, and to make sure children have access to healthcare through available medical insurance. Finally, the guidelines are supposed to help courts to be more efficient, by providing some consistency, minimizing proof problems and allowing adjustments to be made when required.

The goals of the State’s guidelines are lofty indeed, and for the most part, they allow individuals to have some sense, even before an order is entered, of what child support payments will look like. However, there is still much grey area in the guidelines in certain cases, and parents may want to consider whether it is best for them to contact and experienced Massachusetts family law attorney.