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Massachusetts child support, custody, visitation, and wage garnishment rules

Use this Massachusetts child support law to learn about your child support rights and responsibilites.

How is Massachusetts child support determined?

In Massachusetts, the courts may order either parent to provide child support, which could also include health insurance and education expenses, for any minor child.

There are specific Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines, designed to be in the best interests of the child, that the courts use to determine the correct amount of child support. These will be followed unless both parents agree to an amount other than that calculated by the guidelines, or the courts decide the application of the guidelines is unjust for a particular case.

The following percentages of the net income of the paying parent are what the Massachusetts child support guidelines are generally based on. However the order may be increased or decreased by 2% depending on the circumstances of the particular case:

Gross Weekly Income

# of children

% of Income

$0 - $125

1 child

15% (at least $50/mo)

$125 - $200

1 child


$201 - $500

1 child


$0 - $125

2 children


$125 - $200

2 children


$201 - $500

2 children


$0 - $125

3 children


$125 - $200

3 children


$201 - $500

3 children


When there are more than three children, the courts will set an appropriate amount, though it will not be lower than the amount set for 3 children. Also the orders will be adjusted to reflect the cost for raising older children. When the children are 7 to 12 years of age, the basic order will be increased by 10% of the original order. When the children are ages 13 - 18, the basic order will be increased by 15% of the original order.

If the custodial parent is working and earning more than $15,000 per year after deducting childcare expenses, then the order for child support will be reduced in an appropriate manner.

At what age does child support payments end?

Generally, the obligation ends when the child reaches 18 years of age.

Massachusetts's custody guidelines:

Parents may agree upon decisions about custody. If there is no agreement, then the courts will make these custody decisions. In Massachusetts, custody may be awarded to either parent, or both parents or to a third party. If there is no marital misconduct, then the parent’s rights to custody will be considered equally. The court considers the following:

  • the child’s overall happiness and welfare
  • whether or not the child’s present or past living conditions adversely affect his or her physical, emotional or moral health

Joint custody may be awarded if both parents agree, and the courts find it is in the best interests of the child. If the custody issue is contested, and either party seeks shared legal or physical custody; the parties jointly or individually must submit a shared custody plan, including provisions for the child's education, health care, visitation and procedures for resolving disputes between the parties regarding the child.

Shared custody does not affect the amount of child support.

Massachusetts's medical insurance guidelines:

Generally, health care coverage is provided for in the initial child support order. If one parent has access to an affordable health insurance plan through his or her place of employment, the court will require that the child be covered under that plan.

How permanent are the provisions for Massachusetts child support and custody ?

Court orders providing for custody of children are subject to change or modification to reflect significant changes in living arrangements of the children.

Support orders may be modified also, but require a proven change in circumstances or written findings by the court that the application of the state guidelines was unjust in the particular case 

While all orders concerning the children are modifiable in the future, we encourage you to not enter into an agreement based on the idea that it can always be changed or modified later.

Wage garnishment for child support payments:

Yes. Massachusetts, like most states, has a provision for withholding child support directly from the earnings of the parent who has been ordered to provide support. It is withheld much like income tax is withheld from earnings payments.

This way of paying and receiving child support is generally easier for both parties and considered a very dependable solution. Once the support is withheld, it is sent to the agency authorized to receive and disburse payments. Once the payment has been recorded, it is sent to the parent designated to receive the support.

If a non-custodial parent can show that they are providing more than 50 percent of the support for dependents not included in the court order from a second marriage, and is not in arrears, no more than 50% of their disposable income can be attached if they cannot pay the full court-ordered amount of both orders.

That number goes to 55% if the non-custodial parent is in arrears, 60 percent for a person only providing support to dependents under the current order, and 65% for a person who is in arrears and paying only on the current order.

How does joint custody work?

The current trend is to encourage parents to work together for the best interests of their children. Joint custody is now widely recognized by parents, courts and state legislatures. However, there is no presumption either in favor or against shared legal or physical custody in Massachusetts. 

When the parents have reached an agreement providing for the child's custody, the court may enter the order unless the court makes specific findings indicating that the arrangement would not be in the best interest of the child.

Specifically, joint custody is a form of custody of minor children that requires both parents to share the responsibilities of the children, and for both parents to approve all major decisions related to the children.

Massachusetts recognizes two types of shared custody:

  1. shared physical custody - the child shall have periods of residence with and under the supervision of each parent
  2. shared legal custody - a sharing of the major decisions regarding the child (i.e. medical care, education and religion)

How Massachusetts determines child visitation:

Generally, parents are free to visit with their children at all times that are mutually agreed to by both parents. However, when parents cannot agree, the standard visitation schedule accepted most everywhere in the nation is:

  • every other weekend
  • four to six (4-6) weeks during the summer
  • alternating holidays
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