Barbara J. Katzenberg, Attorney at Law
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What if a child support order is unaffordable?

The Massachusetts family court calculates child support according to strict guidelines. However, in certain circumstances, the court may allow parents to negotiate a child support settlement that is different to what the court would award, and the request will have to be justified. If such negotiations take place, the focus must remain on the best interests of the child.

Circumstances in which it may be beneficial to negotiate child support may include a non-custodial spouse whose financial situation does not allow him or her to afford the amount state guidelines would order. It is not uncommon for former spouses who are unable to pay the court ordered amount to default. Rather than receiving nothing, it may be wise to agree to a lesser amount that he or she can afford. The law has hardship provisions in which the usual formula might not be applied, and negotiating an affordable amount of child support may be in the child's best interest.

In other cases, settling on a lower child support obligation might bring about additional support. Child-related expenses that do not typically form part of the court ordered child support may be offered by a non-custodial parent in exchange for a lesser amount of child support. Parents can also agree to temporarily lower child support during times of hardship, with the understanding that it would increase when income increases.

Child support negotiations will likely only be possible when former spouses are on good terms, and the goal of both parents is to do what is best for the child. Regardless of how amicable the relationship is, verbal agreements are never a good idea. To avoid contention and potential litigation later, it may be appropriate to consult with a Massachusetts family law attorney who can draft a legally binding document to confirm child support settlement agreements.

Source: life.familyeducation.com, "Child Support: What's Fair?", Accessed on Jan. 2, 2016

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