The dog days of summer will soon come to an end and children will return to school. Some will even transition to college in the fall or begin filling out college applications.  Even for parents whose children are young, the thought of college brings excitement, along with anxiety about how they will cover the costs of college.

Any parent is weighing these questions about college expenses:

  • Should the adult child have skin in the game and take on debt to pay a portion, or all of the cost?
  • Did the parents or family members contribute to college savings funds for the child?
  • Should the parents commit to taking on student loans for their child?
  • How are college expenses defined?
  • Do college expenses include college visits, college application fees, admission fees, and travel to and from school?

These questions are further complicated for parents with children of all ages who are going through a divorce. Here’s what you need to know about your rights as a parent with respect to your adult children’s college expenses.

A judge will help determine how to split costs of education in a divorce

In Massachusetts, a parent’s obligation to contribute to college expenses is not presumptive but is left to the discretion of the judge. The Court considers a series of factors in determining whether a parent must financially contribute to their children’s education. These factors include the cost of the college or university, the child’s aptitudes, the child’s living situation, the available resources of the parents and child, the availability of financial aid, and other relevant factors.

There are limits on the amount you can be ordered to pay

Under the Massachusetts’ Child Support Guidelines, no parent shall be ordered to pay college costs in an amount greater than 50% of the undergraduate, in-state resident costs of University of Massachusetts Amherst, unless the Court enters written findings that a parent has the ability to pay a higher amount. The Guidelines define “costs” as mandatory fees, tuition, and room and board for UMass Amherst, as set out in the “Published Annual College Costs Before Financial Aid” in the College Board’s Annual Survey of Colleges. The Guidelines’ limitation on payment of college expenses is recommended for most cases, but not mandatory.

College expenses can impact other factors in the child support agreement

A parent’s child support obligation may be reduced or terminated when paying for the adult child’s college expenses. However, it is also possible for a parent to pay child support in addition to paying for the adult child’s college expenses.

Whether a parent will have to pay for his or her children’s college expenses varies on a case-by-case basis.

Divorce is complicated- especially with children in the mix, and particularly when college is on the horizon! If you are a parent and involved in any legal matters involving custody and child support it is important that you speak with an attorney who specializes in the field of domestic relations law to ensure that all of your rights are preserved. Contact RFC today for help!

When it comes to children; unmarried parents have rights and obligations, too.

Massachusetts Courts have taken pains to see that children of unwed parents and married parents, at least theoretically, are treated alike; and that children of unwed parents should be entitled to the same rights and protections as children of married parents. Here are some of the legal boundaries that maintain equality for unmarried parents in Massachusetts law:

Unmarried parents have rights to see their children, and obligations to support them. Child support obligations can be retroactive to the date of the child’s birth. The Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines apply to children of unwed parents in the same way they apply to children of married parents.

  • Unmarried parents have rights to seek, or obligations to provide, health insurance for their children, and to pay uninsured health expenses for them.
  • Unmarried parents may be obligated to provide (or seek for their co-parent to provide) life insurance to secure child support and other child related obligations.
  • The Court has the authority to make orders concerning custody and parenting of children of unwed parents.
  • The Court has the right to enter orders concerning payment of college or extracurricular activities.
  • Children of unwed parents are entitled to receive a share of their parent’s estate if there is no Will or other estate plan in place.
  • Curious about the rights or obligations of yourself or a co-parent? Ryan Faenza Carey is here to help you navigate the law in the best interests of your child(ren). Contact us today.

Federal regulations mandate each state review child support guidelines at least every four years. In September 2017, Massachusetts enacted new child support guidelines after a review. However, the Trial Court has worked to alleviate several issues outstanding from these revised guidelines by amending the 2017 guidelines, as well as completely overhauling the child support guidelines worksheet in June 2018.

Here’s a breakdown of what has changed, and the still-remaining issues that could be addressed in future amendments.

What’s New?

The 2018 child support guidelines give a credit for the amount of medical, dental and/or vision insurance or child care costs to the party who pays these expenses (rather than 

just a deduction from their total income).

Prior to the June 2018 amendment, there was a problem of “double counting” the credit that a party receives for paying insurance or child care, in a shared physical custody arrangement. Prior to the June 2018 amendment, to calculate child support for a 50/50 parenting plan, the court

calculated the guidelines with each parent as the custodial parent and the net amount would become the child support payment. The challenge with running the 2017 guidelines twice was that the party who pays the insurance or child care would receive twice the credit. The June 2018 child support guidelines alleviate the necessity to run the child support guidelines twice, therefore preventing the issue of double counting any insurance or child care credit.

Child support calculated differently for families with children over the age of 18, and additional children under the age of 18.

The September 2017 child support guidelines reduced support orders for children over the age of 18. However, the chart included in the 2017 child support guidelines resulted in some puzzling results for any families of four or more children, where at least one of the children was over the age of 18, effectively awarding a greater amount of child support to a party who has custody of just three children under the age of 18, than to a party who has custody of three children under the age 18 and at least one child over the age of 18. The June 2018 child support guidelines stated, in a comment, an attempt to “fully preserve the increases in child support for additional younger children,” as reason for amending the way child support is calculated.

What Changes Could be Next?

While the new Massachusetts child support guidelines are utilized in the majority of custody cases, there are still several issues with the guidelines that have not been addressed by the Trial Court, causing some inconsistencies in rulings among Judges. These issues could be up for review next time the child support guidelines are amended.

  • The child support guidelines only calculates orders at a combined total income of $250,000 between the parties.   Any income above and beyond the combined $250,000 is to be addressed at the discretion of the Judge. The Trial Court has yet to address a uniform method for handling such an overage when calculating the child support guidelines.
  • The new child support guidelines deal with different custody arrangements: primary custody of all children to one parent, each parent having primary custody of one or more child, and joint physical custody of the children. However, there is no method set forth regarding how to calculate child support when the parties have multiple children and to which the parties share physical custody of one or more children, and one or the other of the parents has primary physical custody of at least one child. Under such a parenting plan, there are no instructions as to how to calculate the child support guidelines.
  • The child support guidelines remain silent on whether or not child support should be reduced in one or both parents are contributing toward college, and if so, what the formula should be for such a reduction.

If you are involved in any legal matters involving the issues of custody and child support it is important that you speak with an attorney who specializes in the field of domestic relations law to ensure that all of your rights are preserved. Contact us today so we can help.

To read the full Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines, visit https://www.mass.gov/info-details/child-support-guidelines. 

Dealing with divorce and protecting your children at the same time

It is not uncommon for a divorced or divorcing individual at some point in his or her life, either during or after divorce, to try and “erase” the past and start again; to pretend that the past hasn’t happened and try to chart out a new course for the future avoiding history as it occurred. In circumstances where no children are involved, this new course or direction may occur without too much collateral damage; however, if children are involved, it can be devastating.

 

Sometimes, a parent can actually take this effort too far, in the process emotionally or physically distancing him/herself from a child as well. That parent may stop seeing or being as involved in the life of their child(ren), and oftentimes financially withdraws support for them as well. For parents who had previously been involved in the child’s life, that can cause incredible trauma. This is a heartbreaking situation for everyone—the departing parent, the available parent who must try to compensate, but especially for the child who will bear the scars and endure this heartbreak for the rest of his or her life.

Here’s the bottom line: The decision to be a parent is permanent and irrevocable. The decision to have a child carries with it multiple responsibilities, not the least of which is providing love, emotional support, financial support and guidance to the child. These responsibilities are not something which a parent can later “undo” or “quit”—parenting is forever.

 

All parents matter, and the best interests of the child should be considered paramount.   The responsibilities of parenting should be borne by the adults who brought the child into the world, and not by the innocent child. If you find yourself struggling with divorce to the harm of your child(ren), there are many resources you can seek including counseling to help avoid long-standing emotional harm on your family.

How will I see my divorce in 20 years?  What will I wish I had done differently, and what will I be glad I did?  How will it feel?

Here are some things you can look forward to, many years after your divorce; This information stemming from my many years advising and guiding clients through divorce, but also my own personal divorce experience and learnings.

You’ll have distanced yourself from the emotion

The raw emotion will be barely recognizable– it will seem like a distant spec on the horizon. Like childbirth, the horrible parts will be a distant memory, and you will be able to remember and appreciate the positive parts. In fact your children, if you had them, will have their own memories and ideas, which will be much stronger than yours.
You will no longer feel as though ‘I just want this to be over with,’ because it will be indeed over. Time heals all wounds, if you let it.

You’ll be glad you found kindness

You will not regret a single kindness done or spoken toward your spouse, your ex-spouse or your children, and you will wish you had done these things more often. The times you took the ‘high road.’ will come back to you a hundredfold.

You will regret the things you did and said out of anger, spite, hostility, selfishness, hate and righteousness.

You’ll be able to look back with clarity

You will have a greater understanding of what drew you together with your former spouse, what kept you together, and what broke you apart.

You will truly acknowledge that it took two to tango– two to make things work and two to break things apart.

If you have healed (which you should have done), you will wish the best for your ex and have a greater understanding than you ever had, of what you did wrong, and what you did right.

You will be able to see the good in the past, appreciate, and forgive

You will be able to admit your mistakes, forgive yourself and forgive your ex, recognizing that you are both wonderful, and flawed, individuals.

You will appreciate more than ever before, the positive things which came from your divorce, and the ways in which you are enriched from divorce; strength is indeed borne of tragedy.

You will see in your children every day the scars you helped make, and the good character you helped build.

You will be able to remember with affection the wonderful parts of the person you once loved, and be able to actually remember the affection you felt, as well as the pain, and the wonderful qualities of that person, despite the pain and heartache that came later.

It helps to have an experienced divorce attorney who can support you during this difficult time and see you through the rough parts. If you’re thinking about, ready for, or in the midst of a divorce, contact Ryan Faenza Carey for a consultation.