Custody Disputes, Visitation & Child Support

Although child support ramifications are occasionally one of the reasons why some parents litigate child custody, the courts’ decisions on both are determined on completely different analyses. Child custody, parenting time, and visitation are decided on what is in the child’s best interests. Child support is determined by, in most cases, what is called for under the Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines. In most cases, the child support guidelines will, after certain numerical values are computed, dictate what the child support is. Whether you are involved in a dispute involving custody or child support, an experienced family law and divorce attorney can help.

With respect to child custody, in Massachusetts we differentiate physical custody from legal custody. Many parents end up with shared legal custody, which means they will jointly decide on important decisions affecting the child. Physical custody determines where the child will reside. In many cases one parent has primary or sole physical custody, and the other parent has visitation or parenting time on defined periods. In other cases, the parents may have shared physical custody, which essentially means the child resides with each roughly fifty percent of the time. Shared physical custody, while in theory is highly desirable, is not always practical nor in the child’s best interests however. Reasons include proximity of the parties to each other (which can be a significant issue as pertains to schooling), the work schedules or the different parties, and the parties’ historical division of the parental responsibilities.

At the end of the day, custody determinations are always based upon the child’s best interests. Sometimes, the judge is also charged with ruling upon a request of a party to be permitted to move out of the state or even the country, with a child they have or expect to have physical custody of. In these removal cases, the judge will inevitably have to determine the benefits of relocation to the parent who seeks removal if the request is allowed. But they will then compare those benefits to the child’s best interests, and essentially have to decide if it is in the child’s best interests to move somewhere where their physical custodian’s life situation will improve, at the expense of regular visitation with the other parent. These cases are often highly contested and extremely emotional. As with all custody determinations, if facing or considering a request for child removal, it is extremely important to have the guidance and knowledge of an experienced family law attorney.

The amount payable from one parent to the other in child support is generally dictated by the Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines. These guidelines are generally updated every couple of years or so. Under the guidelines put into effect beginning August 1, 2013, there is a rebuttable presumption that the guidelines apply to all child support cases. If the parties combined income exceeds $250,000.00, then the court will use discretion in setting forth the amount of support payable above the level called for at the $250,000.00 level. The court shall also use discretion in computing child support for children over the age of 18 who have completed high school.

It is highly advisable that anyone tasked with determining what an appropriate child support amount they should be paying or receiving, obtain the advice of an experience family law attorney. The Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines have many nuances or variables. In addition to those listed above, variables include, without limitation:

– Sources of income and unreported income;
– Overtime income and secondary jobs;
– Self-employment factors;
– Willful under-employment or willful unemployment;
– Relationship between alimony and child support;
– Child care expenses;
– Health, dental and vision insurance expenses;
– Dependency claims for tax filings;
– The amount of parenting time each parent has with the child; and
– Obligations to subsequent children.

If you are considering or have been served with a complaint for divorce involving child custody or support, or want to explore the possibility of modifying an existing judgment involving child custody or support, please contact an experienced divorce and family law attorney at LaFountain & Wollman, P.C., for a free initial consultation today.