Child Support in Massachusetts, Part 2: Changing the Terms of an Arrangement and Enforcement
The first part of this child support series focused on how to arrange a child support order and how to make and receive payments in Massachusetts.
However, in some cases, you may need to change or enforce your order.
The Department of Revenue Child Support Enforcement Division (DOR/CSE) and the Massachusetts Court System provide information on how to change an order and what steps to take if a parent fails to make payments.
Changing a Child Support Order
There are certain changes in either parent’s or a child’s situation that can affect child support payments. The reason you seek to change a child support order can be related to:
- Parent income
- Child custody
- Parent health care coverage
Depending on your circumstances, there are different ways to file to change a child support order. You should usually file for a child support change, called a “modification,” with the Probate and Family Court in the county where the original child support case was heard.
If you make less than $75,000 a year, you can file to change your child support order online. You will need your existing child support order and personal financial information to complete the process.
You’ll also need to file certain forms depending on your situation:
- One Parent Requests a Change — If only one parent wants to change the order, there are 2 options.
- If DOR/CSE Is Managing Your Case — DOR/CSE may be able to help make changes to a court order if you signed up for child support enforcement services. In some cases, DOR/CSE will pay for the cost of services, schedule hearings, and serve forms to the other parent and the court. Contact DOR/CSE or court staff to determine what forms you need and send them to:
Massachusetts Department of Revenue
Child Support Enforcement Division
P.O. Box 7057
Boston, MA 02204
- If DOR/CSE Is Not Managing Your Case — Submit the Complaint for Modification form to start the process. Once you file, what happens next depends on the circumstances of your case and the change you’re requesting.
- Both Parents Request a Change — If you agree about the change to the order, you and the other parent need to deliver your child support order and other necessary change request forms together to the court by mail or in person. If you’ve provided all the required documents and the court approves the change, you’ll receive a decision within 30 days. If the judge has further questions or there are forms missing in your modification request, the court will notify you within 21 days that a hearing has been scheduled. You and the other parent must both attend.
Unless DOR/CSE files for you, there is usually a $50 fee for filing the Complaint for Modification and a $5 summons fee.
The court will use the Child Support Guidelines to decide whether your order should be changed. Things the judge will consider include:
- Parents’ income, expenses, and financial statements
- Parents’ health insurance
- Child custody
- Child’s age
Failing to Pay Child Support
If the parent who has been ordered to make payments doesn’t pay child support, the receiving parent can either seek DOR’s assistance or take a complaint to court.
DOR/CSE Collection and Enforcement
DOR/CSE has several ways to enforce a child support order, including:
- Financial Enforcement — DOR/CSE may collect overdue payments by taking money from the parent through:
Payments collected through enforcement may be held for 45 or 180 days, depending on where the funds are drawn from, to allow the other parent to request a review of an enforcement action.
- Court Action — DOR/CSE may file a court action against a parent for contempt in certain cases.
- License and Passport Freeze — In some cases, DOR/CSE can suspend a parent’s professional or driver’s license or take steps to keep a parent’s passport application from being approved by the U.S. Department of State.
- Penalties and Interest — DOR/CSE will apply a 0.5 percent interest rate and 0.5 percent penalty rate to late payments of more than $500 for each month the amount isn’t paid. If the parent makes minimum child support payments for a given month, they won’t be charged penalties and interest for that period.
Probate and Family Court Resolutions
If the other parent doesn’t pay child support, you can submit a Complaint for Contempt with the Probate and Family Court where the original child support order was made. You can find instructions for filing the Complaint for Contempt form from the Massachusetts Court System.
Once the form is filed, both parents receive a hearing summons where a judge decides:
- If the parent who pays support has disobeyed the order
- How much child support is owed and how payments will be made
- Whether or not a jail sentence should be imposed
The ability to change and enforce child support orders helps make sure that parents across the state can provide for their children. To learn more about the child support process in Massachusetts, check out part 1 of the child support blog series.
Still have questions about child support in Massachusetts? Leave us a comment below or tweet us @MassGov.