The Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines defines a parent’s income for the purpose of calculating child support very broadly but does not specifically include or exclude the financial contributions of household members. In Massachusetts, there is a strong public policy preference that children should be supported by the financial resources of their parents. Third party household members, even new spouses, are not obligated to support unrelated children. Therefore, courts are generally reluctant to transfer that responsibility to a new spouse by considering the new spouse’s income or household contributions when establishing or modifying a child support order.
However, a Probate & Family Court Judge has wide latitude in fashioning a child support order based on each family’s unique facts and circumstances. The income and assets of a new spouse is “part of the circumstances relevant to the ability of parents to use their own resources to contribute to the support of their children.” Silvia v. Silvia, 9 Mass.App.Ct. 339, 342 (1980). If a Judge does find it appropriate to include contributions from household members in calculating a support order, the Court must make detailed findings justifying their inclusion. Those findings must minimally include the following: how are the household contributions expended; the contributing household member’s lack of an obligation to support the children; the manner in which the recipient and the children’s lifestyles are altered by the contributions; the discretion that the contributing household members maintains in paying these funds; and the manner in which the recipient spouse would support his or her household absent these funds.
The moral of the story is your former spouses’ remarriage or cohabitation could potentially impact your child support if your family’s unique circumstances justifies rebutting the public policy presumption against considering the financial contributions of household members. Unfortunately, there are no one-size-fits-all rules in family law. A former spouse’s remarriage can also have other ramifications outside of the context of child support and it would be good time to dust off your separation agreement and consult with a professional to review your specific legal options.
Article by Attorney Brian T. Salisbury
Attorney Brian Salisbury’s practice includes all aspects of divorce and family law, as well as probate and trust litigation. His family law practice includes high-net worth, complex divorces as well as child custody disputes, child support and alimony actions, paternity actions, appeals, and actions for modification and contempt. Attorney Salisbury is also a trained Mediator, Category V Parent Coordinator, and a Court appointed Category F Guardian ad Litem investigator.
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