Child Support for Children Over 18 Years Old in Massachusetts
What is Child Support?
Child support is intended to minimize the economic impact on the child’s standard of living, not the other parent’s standard of living, however the two are often intertwined. It is intended to entitle the child to enjoy the standard of living had the parents remained together, and to provide the child with the needed survival requirements, including health insurance. The best interests of the child is the main focus when determining child support obligations.
The Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines considers a few items, such as gross income, medical, dental and vision insurance payments, child care payments, and other support obligations paid. It does not take into consideration the bills, mortgages, car loans, and living expenses of the parties.
There is a presumption that the child support guidelines worksheet accurately reflects the standard of living of the parents. In order to overcome this presumption the party must present evidence before the court, and the court is required to make a written reasons why it did not adhere to the guidelines.
Generally speaking, the court has the authority to order an amount that is in the best interest of the child, and takes into consideration the financial ability and earning capacity of the parents of the child.
Does Child Support Stop at Age 18?
No, the Massachusetts courts may order a child support obligation to be paid by a parent for children 18 years of age, up to the age of 23 years old. The court may also make appropriate orders for maintenance, support, medical insurance coverage and education as well.
Do the Child Support Guidelines Govern the Amount for a Child 18 to 23 Years Old?
Generally, the Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines apply to children entitled to support who are up to the age of 18 years old, and includes those children over the age of 18 years old but still attending high school. The court may still require this worksheet to be submitted though.
What does the Court Consider when Determining an Appropriate Amount?
For a child that has attained the age of 18 but has not attained the age of 21, the child must be living in the home of the parent and the child must be principally dependent upon that parent for maintenance.
What does Principally Dependent Mean to the Court?
In Kirwood v Kirwood 27 Mass. App. Ct. 1156 (1989) the court clarified that for children 18 years old but under 21 years old, judges should not limit inquiry solely to the direct financial contributions made by the parties. The judge shall also consider the party’s resources, indirect financial obligations incurred by the custodial parent, (the cost of maintaining a room for the child), as well as the noneconomic factors such as the respective parents’ involvement with the child’s care and well-being.
Here is a general list of the evidence that a court may consider in determining an amount for support and maintenance of a child over 18 years old:
Income and assets of the parties
Financial and non-financial needs of the child
Any extra ordinary medical expenses
Financial and non-financial contributions made by the parties toward his/her maintenance and education
The amount and nature of the time spent by each parent with the child
Purchase of clothing, and other items for the benefit of the child
Purchase of an automobile and or insurance for the benefit of the child
Payments of uninsured medical and dental expenses of the child
Contributions to frequent trips and vacations for the child
The maintenance of a fully furnished bedroom for the child
The close personal relationship with the child, including time spent together
Whether the child’s lifestyle at “home" would be appreciably changed because of the cessation of the child support payments
Voluntary payments made over time shall not be disregarded by the court
What if the Child is 21 Years Old?
If the child is 21 years old, but has not reached the age of 23 years old, the court may still make appropriate orders for the maintenance, support and education of the child, as long as the child is living in the home of the receiving parent, and the child is principally dependant on that parent for maintenance, due to the enrollment of the child in an educational program. The order must exclude educational costs beyond an undergraduate degree program.
Generally, under normal circumstances, once a child reaches 21 years old, and the child is no longer enrolled in an educational program, then the paying parent is not obligated to pay child support.
CAUTION: the obligation does not necessarily end “on its own", or automatically terminate. A court order may be necessary to acknowledge the circumstances. A person who “stops" making payments on his/her own accord due to the view that he/she is no longer obligated to make these payments, may be subjected to a contempt of court and possibly liable to pay arrearages, and the possibility of having to pay opposing party’s attorney’s fees.
What about Medical Insurance?
If the payor parent has health insurance available to him/her through an employer or organization, or has other health insurance available to him/her at a “reasonable" cost, and this insurance can extend to cover the child, then the court can order the payor parent to exercise this option to cover the child.
Keep in mind, that even though a parent is obligated to supply medical insurance for his/her child, the parent may not necessarily be entitled to have access to the medical records, or even know what services they are paying for under the protection of HIPPA laws that protect the privacy of the “adult/child". The good news is that this amount paid by the parent for the insurance coverage is also considered when determining a “fair" child support obligation.
It is common practice that the parent receiving the support, (and who is also not providing the medical insurance), shall be obligated to pay the first $250.00 of reasonable and necessary uninsured medical expenses of the child.
Does the Obligation Automatically End?
No, not necessarily. , if you feel that you are no longer obligated to pay child support you may need to file papers with the Court to dissolve, or “modify", the obligation.
Most Judges will not make an order to retroactively cease this obligation. The Court can only modify child support obligations retroactively to the date that the complaint for modification was served. Keep in mind, a complaint for Modification may take up to 8 months, or longer before you receive a final judgment. If child support payments are not made per the court order, then the parent who stopped making payment may be liable to pay arrearages, and possibly the costs and fees associated with a complaint for contempt.
On the other hand, if both parents are in agreement that the obligation has ceased due to the circumstances, then they may file a Joint Motion to Amend the Order, and this will speed up the process and require less “lost time from work", and may cost less in legal fees, and court costs.
Jeffrey Allan Miller, Esq.
NOTE: This writting shall not be deemed to be legal advice and shall be intended for informational purposes only. If you have any questions regarding your own case then you should contact a qualified attorney in your area.