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Can the judge order an amount of child support different from the Child Support Guidelines amount?

Produced by Massachusetts Law Reform Institute
Reviewed November, 2021

The judge can order a different amount of child support from the amount on the Child Support Guidelines Worksheet. The different amount is called a “deviation” from the Guidelines.

When can the judge order a different amount?

The judge can order a deviation from the amount on the Child Support Guidelines Worksheet in any of these situations:

  1. The parents agree to a different amount and the judge approves their agreement. The judge will only approve agreements that are reasonable and fair.
  2. Your child has costly ongoing special needs or abilities that cost a lot.
  3. Your child has costly extraordinary mental, physical, or developmental needs that are ongoing.
  4. You or the other parent has costly extraordinary mental, physical, or developmental needs that are ongoing.
  5. You or the other parent has extraordinary expenses for health care coverage.
  6. You or the other parent has extraordinary travel or other expenses connected to parenting.
  7. You or the other parent is paying too much for child care compared to your income.
  8. You or the other parent spends a lot less than 1/3 of your parenting time with your children.
  9. The payor is in jail and does not have enough money or assets to pay support.
  10. Paying the Worksheet amount leaves you without enough money to support yourself. This can happen if you have a very low income.
  11. Applying the Guidelines results in:
    • a huge difference between the 2 parents' standards of living, and
    • one household is left with too little of their “combined available income”.
  12. Applying the Guidelines makes it hard for you and your child to be reunited if the Department of Children and Families (DCF) removed your child temporarily.
  13. Without deviating from the Guidelines, applying them results in an order that is unfair, inappropriate, or not in the child’s best interest.

For Example

Peter is Sam's son. He is 11 and he lives with Sam. Sam works at night to make enough money to support himself and Peter. Sam never asked for child support.

Somebody called DCF and reported that Sam leaves Peter all alone until late at night. DCF has to look into the report. While they are looking into it, they take Peter away and put him in foster care.

The Worksheet amount for child support is the minimum order, $12. Sam asks the court to deviate from the $12 and order $100 even though Peter is not living at home right now. With this deviation from the Worksheet amount, Sam may not have to work such long hours, or he could pay a sitter, so Peter can move back home.

When should the judge deviate from the Guidelines?

Whenever application of the guidelines requires a payor to pay a recipient more than 40% of their available income in Line 3a of the guidelines worksheet for a current child support order, the judge should assume there is a substantial hardship and make a support order that deviates from the guidelines.

What must the judge do if they deviate from the Guidelines?

If the judge deviates from the guidelines, they must write down::

  1. The amount of child support the Guidelines calculate.
  2. That the amount of child support the Guidelines calculate is not a fair or reasonable amount under the circumstances.
  3. The circumstances that justify why they decided on a different amount from the Guidelines amount. And
  4. that changing the amount from the guidelines amount is in your child’s best interest.

The information they write is called “findings.” Their findings go into the court file. You can get a copy from the court.

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