Appellate Decision Impacts Child Support in Massachusetts

Today the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court effectively invalidated a reading of the Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines that limited the conditions for modifying child support orders. Under the Child Support Guidelines, a child support order less than three years old could be modified if there was a change in available health insurance or there had been a “material change in circumstances.” However, the current Massachusetts statute governing child support for divorced spouses, G.L. c. 208 § 28, states that ”orders of maintenance and for support of minor children shall be modified if there is an inconsistency between the amount of the existing order and the amount that would result from application of the child support guidelines….” This requirement applies regardless of how recent the child support order is.

In the case at hand, Morales v. Morales, the mother filed a complaint for modification based on the father’s job promotion. The judge dismissed the mother’s complaint, finding there had not been a “material and substantial change of circumstances.” However, applying the logic discussed above, the SJC rejected the judge’s application of the “material and substantial change of circumstances” standard and remanded “for the judge to consider the child support modification request under the statutory inconsistency standard.”

The Child Support Guidelines remain the definitive voice in calculating the amounts of child support to be paid, but the Morales case makes it much easier for parties to seek modifications of child support orders. Presumably, this holding cuts both ways — a payor spouse whose income has decreased could seek a modification based on the inconsistency between the existing order and the amount that would result from applying the Guidelines to the payor’s decreased income.