Remarriage can change family dynamics, especially if you have children. Yet many parents are unaware that their remarriage plans may affect support. This article provides an overview of the effects of remarriage on child support in Massachusetts. If you have questions after reading this article, please contact a local family law attorney for advice.
When parents divorce, one parent is required to pay child support to the other. Each parent has a financial obligation to support his or her child. This obligation continues regardless of the parents' marital status.
In Massachusetts, the state child support guidelines make it easier for judges and parents to calculate child support. The guidelines base support awards on parents' gross incomes and the number of children covered under the support order. A parent's gross income includes his or her salary, tips, bonuses, social security income, capital gains and business income.
Sometimes a judge will deviate from the child support guidelines if a child or parent has extraordinary financial needs. For example, a judge may add childcare expenses or transportation costs to a child support order. Moreover, a court can increase a child support award if a child has special needs or consistent medical expenses.
One aspect of remarriage is predictable – a parent's child support obligation will continue regardless of remarriage. In Massachusetts, remarriage alone won't justify a change to child support. A parent, not a stepparent, has the primary duty to support his or her child.
However, either parent's remarriage may still affect child support obligations. A new spouse's income and assets are relevant to a parent's ability to provide support. In one Massachusetts case, a court increased a father's child support obligation because his new wife was a well-paid physician. The court found that the father's financial obligations were minimal and his wife's additional income allowed him to pay more support. Thus, a parent who remarries a wealthy spouse may find his or her child support obligation increased as a result.
Remarriage isn't a tool to escape from child support obligations. A remarried parent may have additional financial expenses associated with caring for his or her new family. Nevertheless, a judge will balance the needs of a parent's children from a current and former relationship when determining support. A parent's child support obligation is enforceable until a child turns 18 (or older if required by the order) or until the court modifies the order.
Either parent can file a request to modify child support if there's been a major change in circumstances. The change must be ongoing and the parent requesting the modification must show that a support adjustment is in the child's best interests. Massachusetts specifically allows for an adjustment if the following circumstances exist:
A parent's whole financial picture is relevant in a child support modification case. The Massachusetts child support guidelines base support on a parent's individual, not household, earnings. What this means is that a new spouse's income can't be attributed to a parent as income. Still, a judge will consider a new spouse's income and household contributions when deciding a parent's child support obligation. Specifically, in one Massachusetts case, a court raised a father's child support obligation after considering his new wife's income and household contributions. Because the father's new spouse covered a portion of the mortgage and utilities, the father had more disposable income than at the time the child support order was originally entered. The court reasoned that a parent with additional financial resources is more able to pay support.
In another child support case, the judge refused to adjust child support even though the mother had remarried and was unemployed. Although the father's income had increased, the mother's financial circumstances had likewise improved as a result of her remarriage. The court denied the mother's request to adjust support after considering her new husband's income and monetary assistance.
Children can't be victimized by their parents' choices. Children are entitled to an adequate amount of financial support. The addition of a new spouse won't relieve a parent from his or her duty to support a child. Thus, a parent can't avoid a child support obligation just because his or her child gained a rich stepparent through remarriage. Nevertheless, it's clear that a subsequent spouse's contributions and income may affect support.
Remarriage can have long-lasting effects on child support. Since every case is different, remarriage will affect child support differently in each case. If you have questions regarding remarriage's effects on child support in Massachusetts, contact a local family law attorney for advice.