SJC Determines New Standard for Modification of Child Support
Up until today, whenever someone filed for a Modification of Child Support, the standard of review that a court looks at is if there had been a “material and substantial change in circumstances” between the old child support order and the application of the Child Support Guidelines. Today, Massachusett’s Supreme Judicial Court issued a binding opinion that clearly says that the standard is NOT a “material and substantial change in circumstances.”
The new standard is simply if there is an “inconsistent” amount between the old child support order and the application of the Child Support Guidelines. This is a big sea change because it has the possibility of opening the flood gates for litigating child support. The new standard is a much more liberal standard and a lower standard in getting a modification.
The SJC did not however, pull the new “inconsistency” standard out of thin air. The SJC found that the child support statute as passed by the legislature uses the “inconsistency” standard while the Child Support Guidelines (which is promulgated by the Trial Courts) uses the “material and substantial change in circumstances” standard. In such a case where there is conflicting rules, then the statute passed by the legislature must prevail.
In my opinion, the SJC knew full well that lowering the standard of review for Modification cases might open the Probate and Family Courts to a rush of Modification claims. I believe the SJC, through this opinion, is asking the legislature to modify the statute so that it no longer uses the “inconsistency” standard but make it fall in line with the Child Support Guidelines.
For the full text of the opinion, Morales v. Morales, SJ 11104.