Q: My son just started college and my ex just served me with a motion to reduce his child support. I don’t understand why he would get to reduce his child support obligation until our son finishes college. He still lives with me when he is home (my ex moved out of state years ago to take a better paying job so they spend very little time together). We didn’t change child support then because my ex argued he would have travel expenses to come see Matthew — of course he didn’t come regularly so I feel like I should have spoken up back then. I am paying half of college too so my expenses have also increased. It just seems wrong that he can get out of paying his fair share now just because Matthew is spending most of his time an hour away in a dorm room at UMass.
Is there anything I can do to fight this?
A: It sounds like your ex has been paying the same child support for years despite his increased earnings. You should file a counterclaim to increase child support. In October 2021, the Child Support Guidelines changed so now the first $400,000 per year of combined income is used to calculate child support, an increase from the prior first $250,000 being considered. Chances are, depending on how your income has changed and how much his increased, the base line order will be more anyway. I encourage you to file that counterclaim immediately and ask that the increase be made retroactive to the date you serve your ex with the counterclaim for an increase. That way if it takes several months for the matter to be resolved by the court, you can get the increase retroactive to now. Asking for retroactive relief also discourages your ex from trying to drag things out once he realizes he should not have opened this can of worms.
Once you serve your counterclaim for an increase in support, you should file a motion for a temporary increase and a demand for his financial statement so you know what his income is. When you have his income go on the Massachusetts Trial Court website to find the child support guidelines worksheet and run the numbers. There is a presumption that if the amount you are receiving and the guidelines are off by even $1 per week, you should receive an increase. While temporary orders motions are discouraged in modification cases, you are still entitled to bring the motion and the judge can grant an increase.
As for the interplay between child support for children over age 18 and college expenses, the Child Support Guidelines give the judges discretion here. Generally, support does decrease once a child is 18. However, where you are equally sharing Matthew’s college expenses and where your ex got away with earning more with no upward adjustment for years and didn’t use the excess income to visit, you have the sympathetic side of this coin.
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