Many Massachusetts child support obligors are being driven underground, out of their homes, and out of their children’s lives by impossible child support demands. Fathers and Families filed and pursued a highly-publicized lawsuit challenging the state’s new child support guidelines–guidelines which actually raise child support levels in a terrible economy. Our lawsuit made it all the way up to Massachusetts’ highest court, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, which ruled against us.
Our lawsuit has garnered extensive media coverage, including the recent pieces Dads’ group seeks child-support reform (Boston Herald, 9/2/11), SJC Upholds Child Support Guidelines (WBUR [NPR, Boston], 9/2/11), SJC rejects challenge to child support rules filed by fathers group (Boston Globe, 9/2/11), and Mass. high court upholds child support guidelines (Associated Press, 9/1/11), as well as previous pieces in the New York Times, Newsweek, Psychology Today, CBS radio, WRKO in Boston, FOX 25 TV in Boston, and many others.
The Battle to Reform One of the Nation’s Most Inequitable Child Support Guidelines
In 2001, Fathers and Families was instrumental in winning changes in Massachusetts law which lowered child support by 15%. Our victory saved noncustodial parents over $1 billion—$200 a million a year over five years. That’s $1 billion that Massachusetts non-custodial parents were able to spend on their children themselves.
The opposition struck back by stacking a special committee with reliable votes for increasing the child support amounts. Fathers and Families founder Ned Holstein, MD, MS had won a seat on this committee but it ignored the data he presented showing that the proposed new child support orders were far too high for most obligors to pay. Holstein prepared a Minority Report detailing the problems with the new Guidelines, which went into effect January 1, 2009.
What’s Wrong with the New Guidelines?
The new guidelines are causing substantial increases in child support in the vast majority of cases. Many obligors will see increases of “only” 20%, but some will see a tripling of their child support order, even when they are poor and the recipient is wealthy. In high income cases, the child support order for one child could exceed $50,000 per year.
How much money is legitimately needed to support a child? Far less than the Guidelines require, in many cases. If a recipient and payor earn the same amount, when all factors are taken into consideration, the recipient will enjoy a standard of living almost double that of the payor. This holds true throughout the broad range of middle class incomes. Instead of the child-friendly “two-condo solution,” the new Guidelines produce a “castle and shack” outcome.
Working with attorney Gregory Hession of Springfield, F & F quickly filed a lawsuit seeking to block the Guidelines’ implementation. We argued, among other things, that the new guidelines were not formulated using the actual costs of raising a child, as required by federal law, and are thus “arbitrary and capricious.” Additionally, the state bypassed the normal legislative process by having a secret committee prepare them and a single judge declare them to be law, in violation of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights. To read our original legal complaint, click here. To read the Memorandum of Law, click here.
MA Supreme Judicial Court Rules Against Us
The Court decided to hear our case but ruled against us, writing:
The plaintiffs will have an opportunity to raise their constitutional arguments when their cases are heard before the Probate and Family Court (or other trial court), and to pursue appellate remedies if they are dissatisfied with the outcomes of those cases.
Child support obligors struggling with excessive child support obligations in the worst economy since the Great Depression are hardly in a position to fund long, expensive legal battles as individuals. This is the reason why Fathers and Families’ Legal Defense Fund filed this case to begin with–we know individual obligors can’t afford to fund their own battles, so we’re working to change the guidelines for all obligors.
What Will Fathers and Families Do?
There are several ways Fathers and Families can fight this ruling, including taking a specific obligor’s child support case and appealing it, as well as legislative action.
What Can You Do?
As Dr. Holstein told the media last week, we’re not giving up this fight. We want you to:
- Become an F & F volunteer and/or citizen lobbyist to help promote our agenda in the Massachusetts legislature and beyond by filling out our form at www.FathersandFamilies.org/volunteer.
- Legal and political work costs money–help fund the group that fights for you by making a contribution at www.FathersandFamilies.org/give.
- Write a Letter to the Editor of the Boston Globe at email@example.com about SJC rejects challenge to child support rules filed by fathers group (9/2/11) and the Boston Herald at firstname.lastname@example.org about Dads’ group seeks child-support reform (9/2/11). Also, use the links in the second paragraph above to comment about the issue on the news outlets’ websites.