It’s not uncommon for a parent to get married after divorcing or separating from the other parent. If that parent receives or pays child support, there may understandably be questions about the impact of a new romantic partner or spouse on those support payments. Does a remarriage affect child support?
How Can a Remarriage Impact Child Support?
A parent who owes child support will continue to do so, regardless of whether he or she remarries, cohabitates, or dates someone. Moreover, the child support obligation will be owed solely by the child’s parent. A step-parent does not assume this responsibility or relieve the paying parent of the duty to continue making child support payments.
However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that a new spouse or romantic partner won’t have an impact on child support. While the parent of the child remains obligated to pay the support, a family court judge has the authority to adjust payments in light of each family’s unique circumstances. That means the income and assets of a new spouse could be relevant to recalculating child support.
How Child Support Is Calculated in Massachusetts
In Massachusetts, child support is calculated according to state guidelines that take a number of factors into account. Those include the income and assets of the responsible parent. However, in one notable case, the judge increased the father’s obligation by taking into consideration the high income of his new wife. In the eyes of the court, the father’s marriage to a high earner effectively increased the household income, which in turn allowed the father to have more resources to pay a higher amount of child support.
Importantly, this decision did not transfer the responsibility of child support to the new wife. The duty remained with the father. But Massachusetts courts have determined that the income and assets of a new spouse are relevant to the ability of parents to use their own resources to contribute to the financial support of their children. This consideration of household resources (rather than those of just the responsible parent) may also include a new spouse who is living with the responsible parent. In effect, this means cohabitation may also affect child support.
Consider, as an example, a parent who is paying monthly child support in addition to his or her other monthly expenses, such as a mortgage. That parent then remarries or moves in with a romantic partner who uses his or her earnings to pay the mortgage. Paying the mortgage frees up a significant amount of income for the responsible parent. The parent would therefore have more disposable income that could be used to pay more child support.
If a judge finds it acceptable to include contributions from a household member (whether a spouse or romantic partner) to recalculate child support, the judge must make detailed findings of those contributions to support that recalculation. For instance, the judge must consider how those household contributions are spent and the discretion that the contributing household member has over the money.
While courts are still somewhat reluctant to factor in the earnings and resources of a new spouse or partner, that doesn’t mean a judge will refuse to. If you owe or receive child support and have questions about how a new partner may affect monthly payments, it’s a good idea to speak with an experienced Massachusetts family law attorney.