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I have a child support order from another state and now I need to change it, what can I do?

One of the tricky areas of Massachusetts law is how to treat child support orders from other states.  This area of law can get complicated, and if you’re dealing with this issue, it’s one of the times that the help of an attorney is pretty much indispensable.  In these cases, we aren’t talk about something that’s based primarily on the facts (“substantive law”)–we’re dealing with an area of what’s known as “procedural law”–the overarching rules about what a judge is or isn’t allowed to make decisions about and what rules should be applied to the facts when making that decision.

In the case of child support orders, what we’re talking about is “jurisdiction” – whether the court has the authority over the people (“personal jurisdication”) and the issues (“subject matter jurisdiction”) to change the order.

The first question is who lives in Massachusetts and how long have they lived here?  If the child does not live in Massachusetts, the case does not belong in Massachusetts.  Likewise, if the child hasn’t lived in Massachusetts for the past 6 months, the case doesn’t belong here either.  If the child has lived in Massachusetts for more than 6 months, then the Court may be able to modify the support order.

The next question is about where the parents live.  Presumably, the residential parent and the child live in Massachusetts.  Where does the non-residential parent live?  Has he or she also moved to Massachusetts?  Do they still live in the original state where the order was issued?  Do they live in some other state?  If the other parent either lives in Massachusetts or lives in some third state, the Court may be able to modify the support order.  If the other parent still lives in the original state, then the order will need to be handled there.

The last question is what you are trying to modify.   This gets a bit trickier.  As you notice, in both of the above paragraphs, I said that if certain prerequisites were met then the Court may have the ability to modify the order.  I did not write that the Court can modify the order.  This is because there are limits to what parts of the order a Court can modify.  Last year, Massachusetts’ Supreme Judicial Court weighed in on this issue.  Basically, based on all of the statutes surrounding this issue, the Court decided that Massachusetts’ judges can only modify a support order from another state if the term that you’re trying to modify could be modified under the laws of the original state.  What this means is that if the original state has a specific age at which child support automatically ends, a judge can’t use Massachusetts law to make the order longer or shorter (so, using the case as an example, if the original state says child support ends at 18 or high school graduation, you can’t use Massachusetts law to extend the length of that order).  On the other hand, if the original state would allow the term to be modified, the judge can modify that term and use Massachusetts’ laws to make a decision about what should be done.  By way of example, if the amount of child support could be modified, the judge can apply the Massachusetts Child Support guidelines to figure out how much should be paid.


As stated above, this area of law is tricky!  If you are trying to enforce or modify a child support order from another state, you should contact a family law attorney to help you–while it may be expensive up front, it could make a large difference in the total amount of child support you collect over the life of your order.  Infinity Law Group offers free telephone consultations.  Give us a call today!