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  • Writer's pictureSummers Family Law

Untangling the Child Support Web: Key Takeaways from an Appeals Court Ruling

As Massachusetts divorce attorneys, we see a lot of disputes over child support. A recent Appeals Court decision highlights some of the complexities judges face when calculating income and support.


Scrutinizing the Math Behind Income Figures


In McNamara v. McNamara, the Appeals Court took issue with how the lower court judge calculated one parent's income. The specific weekly income figure cited did not seem to match up with the pay stubs and tax documents in evidence.


Judges have significant discretion in assessing income, including overtime pay. But their math needs to add up, and the findings should walk through how income was determined based on the guidelines and record. Without that explanation, the Appeals Court remanded the case to redo the income computation.


Examining the Basis for Imputing Income


This case also dealt with attributing income to an unemployed parent based on their earning capacity. Doing so is very fact-specific and discretionary.


Here, the trial judge felt the parent's testimony about being unable to work lacked credibility, especially paired with unexplained expenditures. The Appeals Court deferred to those firsthand credibility assessments.


Takeaway: Judges can assign potential income to a parent, but should point to objective evidence undermining claims that the parent cannot work.


Requiring Justification for Retroactivity Decisions


Finally, the Appeals Court faulted the lower court for not explaining why it declined to make the support modification retroactive. The case was sent back to make specific findings on retroactivity.


Under Massachusetts law, retroactive support can only be ordered back to when the modification complaint was served. But not addressing retroactivity at all constitutes an abuse of discretion requiring reversal.


Navigating Intricate Legal Standards


As this case shows, both child support laws and family court rulings can be tremendously intricate. Our role is to guide clients through this web as a team to achieve fair outcomes for themselves and the children involved.


Disclaimer: The content provided in this blog is for informational and educational purposes only. It should not be construed as legal advice and readers should not act upon any information provided without seeking professional legal counsel. The author does not guarantee the completeness or accuracy of the information provided. This blog is not intended to create an attorney-client relationship between the author and the reader.

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