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Boston Child Support Lawyer: A Guide to Child Support

How is Child Support Calculated in Massachusetts and Do I Need a Child Support Attorney in Boston?

Child support in Boston, New Bedford, Hingham and throughout Massachusetts is governed by statutes and a set of laws known as the Child Support Enforcement Act.  There are many ways in which a case for child support in New Bedford or Boston may be started, including a case with the Department of Revenue (i.e. child support services government agency), divorce or separate support actions, and cases where a parent seeks to establish a parental relationship.  With the help of a qualified Boston child support attorney, support may also be ordered in annulment cases.

Typically, child support is determined by a formula taking into account many different factors, including most importantly the incomes available to each party and the time each parent spends caring for the child.

Support may be ordered for a child’s support, maintenance and education even though they are an adult.  If a child has reached the age of 18, but has not turned 21, when the child is domiciled in the home of a parent and is a dependent of the parent, the court will ensure child support is paid until that child reaches the age of 21.  The court may also order child support while the child is obtaining an undergraduate education up to age 23.

Additionally, child support will usually be collected by wage garnishment, or a wage withholding order.  These orders are served on the support obligor’s employer and the employer takes child support from the employee’s pay check every time the employee is paid.

Finally, the court is required to determine whether a parent has health insurance available to cover the child, and make the appropriate orders after such an inquiry.

The courts in Boston, Hingham and New Bedford and all over Massachusetts may have jurisdiction to deal with out-of-state child support orders (called interstate orders).  In situations where a parent travels to or from Massachusetts to live, there may be another child support order issued by the court of another state that may need to be registered or enforced in Massachusetts, or modified under certain circumstances.  The law as it pertains to interstate child support matters is extremely complex, even for the most seasoned and experienced attorneys.  It is important to have an expert guide you through the intricacies of these “foreign” support orders to achieve the best results.

How to File for Child Support in Boston

If you need child support you have a right under state law to obtain an order of child support from the other parent, so long as you have “custody” of the child.  If your child actually lives primarily with the other parent and the other parent does not earn significantly more money than you, it might be difficult to obtain an order for child support under the Boston Child Support Guidelines.

In order to obtain an order of child support, you can either file a case, such as divorce, paternity, custody or separate support, and then file a motion for child support within that case.  Alternatively, you can open a case with the Department of Revenue (DOR) and ask them to pursue child support.

If you file a case and file a motion for child support, the Court will grant a child support order on the day of the hearing.  You will file a “Motion for Temporary Orders” along with a “Notice of Hearing”, and serve those documents on the other party.  Complete and file a Financial Statement as well.

During the hearing, be prepared to defend your statements regarding your income and the other party’s income.  If you have relevant documents, such as W2s, 1099s, or pay stubs, bring three copies of those documents with you to court.

How to defend a child support request

If the other party requests that you pay child support, you will be notified of the request in writing.  Typically, you are required to be personally served with “notice” of the child support request and you will be required to attend a hearing.

It is extremely important that you attend the hearing.  If you do not attend, the court will issue an order for the payment of child support and it may not be the right amount depending on your income.  Your wages will then be garnished through your employer.

You can challenge a request for child support a number of ways:

  • If the child actually lives with you, you can request that the court actually order the other parent pay you child support.
  • If you were unwed to the other parent at the conception/birth of the child at issue, you can challenge paternity and the court will order a DNA test to establish parentage.
  • If the other party provides false information to the court, such as information about their income, you can ask the court to continue the hearing to allow you to conduct “discovery” to obtain further information.
  • You can challenge the amount of income that you earn by providing proof of income.  For example, you can provide a W2 statement or pay stubs to prove your wages.

Child Support Guidelines – When They Do Not Apply

There are certain circumstances where the Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines are not ordered by the trial court.  Click on the link above for a further discussion of guideline Boston child support.  The guidelines do not apply (or may be deviated) in these circumstances:

  • The parents (parties to a divorce, paternity or “separate support” action) have entered into an agreement which is approved by the court and adequately provides for the needs of a child;
  • Where the parties have a shared physical custody arrangement, the guidelines are typically run twice and averaged with each parent begin the “custodial” parent.  Although the guidelines still apply if there is shared legal custody (M.G.L.A. c. 208, § 31), the key is to determine if one parent is the primary physical care custodian;
  • Where there is split physical custody (i.e. each parent has primary physical custody of one or more children);Where the combined gross annual income of the parents is $250,000 or more, the guidelines don’t apply to the income over that amount and an additional amount of child support is discretionary.


Boston child support orders may generally be modified as long as a child is within the age of minority.  For purposes of child support orders in Massachusetts, this may mean well into the child’s college-age years.  However, there may be certain restrictions that exist restraining a court from modifying child support.  For example, if the Commonwealth does not have personal jurisdiction over a child support obligor it cannot enforce its orders against that person.

When a valid Massachusetts divorce judgment provides for child support to be paid by one party, the court will retain the power to modify that order against the person that owes child support.  For the court to have power over a child support obligor that does not live in Massachusetts where a divorce judgment was entered by a court of a different state, one of the following reasons must be present to confer jurisdiction on the court:

  • Personal service within the state
  • The child support obligor submits to jurisdiction by appearing
  • The obligor resided with the child within Massachusetts
  • The obligor resided in the Commonwealth and paid prenatal expenses
  • The child resides in Massachusetts as a result of the actions of the obligor
  • The individual had intercourse in Massachusetts which may have produced the child
  • The individual asserted parentage
  • Any other legal basis for jurisdiction exists. (See M.G.L.A. c. 209D)

What is Retroactive Child Support?

Child support orders that are made as of an “effective date” are called “retroactive” child support orders.  For example, suppose you are standing in front of a Family judge and they order the payment of child support.  The order may be effective that day, or the judge may have the legal authority to order that the child support begins as of a date in the past.  Usually, the order will be effective as early as the date the motion was filed.

When parents of a child are unwed, the Court has the ability to order retroactive support from the date of birth of the child.

For more information about jurisdiction as it relates to modification of Boston child support orders, perhaps stemming from out-of-state court orders for child support, contact our offices today to speak with one of our experts free of charge.

How do I Collect Past Due Child Support?

There are a variety of ways to collect past due child support when someone that owes child support fails to pay.  This guide provides a multitude of ways that one might seek payment of an obligation:

Contempt for failure to pay child support

A person owed child support has the option of filing a contempt action against the person that owes child support.  The complaint must state that there was a valid order and the defendant failed to comply.  The complaint should sufficiently set forth the basis for the contempt with specificity.  The court order should be copied down exactly as ordered, and the defendant’s non-compliance must also be specifically set forth in the complaint.  The contempt complaint is filed with the court and then you will have to serve the defendant.

The defendant may oppose the motion and argue any of the following:

  • The Complaint for Contempt is procedurally defective
  • The original order is vague or ambiguous
  • The defendant complied with the order
  • The defendant was not given proper notice for the hearing
  • The contempt violates due process and/or constitutional rights

Complaint or motion to determine arrearages

A party that is owed child support may file a complaint or motion to determine arrears.  These actions are not common, as most people owed child support will simply file a contempt action.

Get a Dedicated Boston Child Support Attorney on Your Side

Because dealing with child support issues may be extremely complex, it is advisable for any litigant going through a case where child support is an issue to contact a qualified lawyer for advice.  Whether you have a case where paternity needs to be established, divorce has or will be filed, or a separate support action is filed, child support may be an important issue that needs to be addressed.  Our child support attorneys in New Bedford, Hingham and Boston  have litigated innumerable cases and we have settled hundreds more.

Wilkinson & Finkbeiner, LLP are highly experienced and can assist you with the proper advice to navigate through your case. We offer a free, confidential meeting.

Contact or email us today or call our Boston office at 617-795-3611, our New Bedford office at 508-316-9720 or our newest addition in Hingham (781) 908-0551.

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