Irrational Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines

by Hans Bader on January 2, 2009 · 19 comments

in Legal, Personal Liberty

Massachusetts has long had some of the most excessive child support guidelines in the nation: for just one child, the father is ordered to pay close to 25% of his gross income, or more than 35% of his after-tax income, to the mother. This amount of money grossly exceeds the cost of raising a child, and there’s no obligation even to spend the money on the child, rather than the mother. As a result, the father often has a disposable income that is just a fraction of the income of the mother’s household.

But excessive as the guidelines are, the state courts are now promulgating a child-support schedule that radically increases the rates by 60 percent for middle-class households where the father and mother make similar amounts (like $40,000 each or $60,000 each). The guidelines are not rationally-related to the costs of rearing children.

The new guidelines are harmful to children, not just their fathers. Children spend up to a third of their time in their fathers’ care, yet Massachusetts’ child support guidelines financially destroy many divorced fathers, leaving them chronically broke and thus unable to provide their children a nice home to live in during visitation. The state child support guidelines give fathers little if any reduction in child support payments for the time and money they spend caring for their children during extensive visitation, even though such care reduces the child-care costs of the recipient mother and increases the father’s expenses.

This financial havoc can’t be justified by claiming that divorced fathers had it coming: most divorces in this country are no-fault divorces initiated by wives, rather than husbands (wives initiate about two-thirds of all divorces, according to data collected by the National Center for Health Statistics, and the many studies reviewed by Sanford Braver of Arizona State University in his 1998 book Divorced Dads: Shattering the Myths).

It is also frankly sexist: unlike nearby states, like Maine and Connecticut, where fathers have some realistic chance of getting primary or shared custody, in Massachusetts, trial judges tend to award primary custody to mothers over similarly-qualified fathers, even when the fathers are fit parents who have been very actively involved in the lives of their children. Everyone knows that these guidelines are intended to milk fathers to benefit their ex-wives (and their divorce lawyers). Prominent divorce lawyers like Richard Crouch have noted that in practice, child-support and spousal support laws are often applied in a sexist fashion.

As excessive as the child-support guidelines are, alimony is often awarded on top of it. Alimony is awarded in Massachusetts even to wives who have committed adultery or engaged in domestic violence. (Most states award alimony without regard to fault; a minority preclude alimony based on fault, such as adultery; and some states that generally ignore fault still forbid spouses who have perpetrated domestic violence to collect alimony. A few states, like California, even award alimony to low-income husbands, but in most states, courts are, in practice, much more willing to award alimony to wives (even those who are quite capable of supporting themselves) than to low-income husbands, even if the husband did something praiseworthy like working to pay his wife’s college bills).

I should note in closing that I am not divorced, have no child support obligations, and no personal or family history of entanglement with the family courts or divorce courts. My only connection to Massachusetts is spending three years earning a degree at Harvard Law School, and reading dozens of Massachusetts family-court cases. (Years ago, I also read the child support guidelines of virtually every state).

Alan January 2, 2009 at 12:45 pm

Interesting article, Hans.

tom January 4, 2009 at 12:26 am

I am not married, no kids. AND WILL NEVER BE A FATHER!!!The child support agency is nothing less than a government-run slave trade.Our society treats fathers like dogs, maybe when enough men realize it and refuse to start families, something will change…

Alan January 4, 2009 at 4:08 am

Tom, I'm married, 25 years, and have raised a great son. I can't say its for everyone, but for myself and my family, its been a great experience. Personally, I think your concerns are a little exagerated.

dscott January 4, 2009 at 1:38 pm

Well I have been and been divorced, I can attest to the accuracy of the article. Tom has every right to be concerned in fact he is spot on. The same draconian system exists in Maryland.Something that Mr. Bader should touch upon a little more is the fact that he mentioned in passing the issue of domestic violence by women. The majority of child abuse in this country is perpetrated by women NOT men. In fact over half of all child abusers were hand picked by the very courts charged to act in the best interest of children. What do you call the judgment of the Courts when it fails children so badly? Is over 200,000 cases of child abuse per year a sign of the best interest of children? How would you describe such as result? Incompetent or Evil? It is a national scandal that child abuse is politically correct when the perp is a woman. This speaks to the immorality of the family law system, a system so bigoted in it's hatred of males that it willfully sacrifices children on the alter of it's political correctness. Tom, you are a fortunate man that has not experienced the evil of the family law courts and I understand how as a rational person indoctrinated by the teachings of society that the courts are supposed to be the guardians of freedom and justice, so you can't possibly comprehend that they are mere euphemisms bandied about by politicians, judges and lawyers as an Orwellian cover up. Think of the "Ministry of Love" when the family law court is mentioned, then you will have an inkling of a clue as to what is going on in this country. If you want to see the face of Evil, just look at a family law judge, his minions the lawyers and the rest of the cadre liberal bigots masquerading as servants of the Law. Just as Satan is a convincing liar, so too are his servants, the family law judges. If you think my response is over the top, consider that I personally had to fight against a system that literally condoned the physical abuse of my children by the mother. I LOST.

Alan January 5, 2009 at 12:21 pm

I doesn't seem right that you have been put through this pain. It seems that you identify family law judges with "liberal," rather than, I suppose, "conservative" judges. What is the basis for this identification?

rpl January 6, 2009 at 4:11 am

Not to put words into the other poster's mouth, but I suspect that he identifies the problem as a "liberal" problem because it generally seems to be worse in states with liberal governments (although the original post seems to indicate that California is an exception). Still, does it really matter? Do all politics in this country have to come down to party affiliation? It doesn't really matter whether the judges in question are liberal or conservative. What matters is that the law surrounding these issues is often bad, and the judges that apply it are unaccountable. Change those things, and it won't matter so much what the party affiliation of the judges is.

Hans Bader January 6, 2009 at 4:28 am

Ironically, California isn't the exception, and gender bias in divorce law is, in some states, a "liberal" problem. (Massachusetts is a famously liberal state, while nearby Maine and Connecticut have historically been full of moderate Democrats and Republicans (less of the latter in recent years)).California is less sexist in alimony decisions than most states, but is quite bad on many other family law matters (like courts ordering the husband to pay the wife's attorneys fees even when her lawyer makes an unsuccessful motion that lacks merit, simply because the wife's nominal income is less).And in California, the legislature breaks down on party lines thusly: the Republican legislators usually are not hostile to fathers, and the Democrats usually are hostile to them.For example, California Republican legislators have tended to oppose allowing lifelong alimony based on short marriages that ended in no-fault divorces, while California Democratic legislators have tended to support allowing judges to order such lifelong alimony, and to prevent spouses from contracting away the right to seek such extravagant demands through prenups. Over Republican objections, liberal legislators passed, and Gov. Gray Davis (D-CA) signed, a law weakening a prior statutory presumption (signed into law by prior moderate Gov. Pete Wilson (R-CA)) that alimony should not be awarded for periods longer than the marriage itself lasted.Party affiliation matters less when it comes to judges than legislators, but even there, it sometimes matters. The only two members of New York State's highest court who are reasonably fair to husbands and fathers — Robert S. Smith and Susan Read — were put there by Gov. Pataki (R). The Democratic appointees are all hostile to husbands and fathers in their rulings.

Scott January 6, 2009 at 9:21 am

Not only are Massachusetts laws screwed up in this area, but you will pay full child support during the college years in addition to tuition and room/board and it can extend to the age of 23! You don't even get an adjustment because the child is eating his/her meals at college! They also changed a cap so that it is possible that child support for one child can be as much as $50,000 a year. Children are expensive but not that expensive!!!

Alan January 6, 2009 at 1:23 pm

Thank you rpl and Hans for the information. My general expectation would be that this is much less a "partisan" issue than many others, and I would not have expected it to break down on "party lines". I was curious about the perception that it is "liberals" who have some responsibility for this since in some cases people who have had a bad experience and feel they have been dealt and injustice will seek to blame someone or some group for their troubles whatever the reality might be.One of the things that I noticed in the article is that the judges take into account state child support guidelines. How do these guidelines get created? What role do they play?

Rich January 7, 2009 at 5:49 am

So I am legally required to pay both existing child support AND also college tuition?? It seems interesting that, if I talk my college-freshman son into taking a semester off, I not only lose the need to pay child support (he becomes emancipated), but my involvement in paying tuition becomes optional! Don't get me wrong, I love my son to death and will always help HIM as much as possble, it seems unfair that his mother benefits on both sides. I'd prefer to give the same amount of money to my son (directly and through some type of investment), so that I know that the money is being used properly.

MT January 7, 2009 at 4:07 pm

Very unfair indeed, and add to it the fact that Mass is a college state and you are responsible for a full time student to age 23. I pay support on 3 children currently and it amounts to 50% of my take home income.

James Goksina January 19, 2009 at 4:11 am

Very useful post. where can i find more articles on this subject ?

Jen January 19, 2009 at 6:20 am

Hi there,

I am in my second year of college and just recently had my child support reinstated through the DOR. My father is reequired to pay a measly sixity dollars a week. Although I am grateful, it was like pulling teeth trying to get any aid from him. My father was never apart of my life and was never financially responsible for anything outside the DOR court order. My mother and I were both hesitant to reinstate the court order, however it needed to be done as my mom is no longer able to fully assist me due to financial woes. I've decided to take ONE semester off so that I cant get my self situated closer to home and at an institution which is more financially resonable. I saw Rich mentioned a similar situation, however I am curious if this is the same across the board, or does it depend on the judge's order? Unfortunatly my father is a piece of sh*t and will do anything in his hands to stop aiding me. Have I made a foolish mistake by taking a semester? Have I given my father the opportunity to walk away with his hand clean? I am not out to "attack" him by any means, I just want him to take the bare minimum

Jen January 19, 2009 at 6:21 am

responsiblity. Please let me know if you have any suggestions- as I am eager to get to the bottom of this. Thanks alot. Jen

Andrew January 19, 2009 at 7:43 pm

I make 90k a year yet my take home for the month of December was $325-garnishment. That's how evil the government of massachuesetts is. The government of massachuesetts is a destroyer of families.

James Goksina January 20, 2009 at 12:04 pm

Very useful info..thanks for sharing! kisses ;)

Kris January 26, 2009 at 11:27 am

I am dating a great man who loves his daughter deeply, but doesn't get to see her much (or me for that matter) because he has to work all the time just to stay ahead while paying child support and health insurance. When he was dating his ex he paid for her to receive an education that would allow her to work and have income (before their daughter was born). Guess what she does now? She sits in her low income housing, browsing the internet, smoking cigarettes and drinking coffee everyday, collecting her welfare and child support. He even had to start driving their daughter to school twice a week just to make sure she was getting there, as mom tends to oversleep or just be running late. How is it fair that he's held accountable and she's not? And why is it that I am working 2 jobs myself just to stay ahead and yet my money is going to support her (through taxes) because she doesn't feel like working and the state of MA has made it so easy for her, why would she?

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