Every four years the Child Support Guidelines in Massachusetts are updated by a Task Force appointed by the Chief Justice of the Trial Court. In 2013 the Guidelines were updated and significant changes were made to the formula and to the parenting time language. The Guidelines have been updated again for 2017, and the new guidelines took effect on September 15, 2017.
In 2009, the Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines added language acknowledging the increase in shared parenting by specifically defining how the Court should calculate child support differently when parents share parenting time "equally, or approximately equally."
However, the 2009 Guidelines still left questions as to how to handle cases that didn't fit a one-third or equal parenting time. The 2013 Guidelines made an effort to clarify these two issues, though arguably the result was still quite vague. The 2013 Task Force added language allowing the court to consider a deviation upwards when the payor had less than 1/3 of the time, and added an averaging calculation for cases where parenting time was in between 33 and 50% of the time. The average category in particular was highly criticized for increasing litigation over small amounts of parenting time.
The 2017 Task Force, recognizing these issues deleted the in-between category, and clarified the deviation factor by adding a principle to guide Judges in their determinations:
"recognizing that deviations should be used when appropriate to tailor a child support order to the unique circumstances of a particular family."
While the 2017 Task Force has highlighted the importance of the appropriate use of discretion this only increases the uncertainty that parties have when going in front of a Judge, and this remains a strong argument for self-determination and the use of out-of-court settlement options, such as mediation, whenever possible.