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Trial Court Increases Transparency by Announcing 2020-2021 Child Support Task Force for Massachusetts

Trial Court Increases Transparency by Announcing 2020-2021 Child Support Task Force for Massachusetts

After criticisms over secretive process, the Trial Court has announced the 2020-2021 Child Support Task Force almost a year before the next Child Support Guidelines will go into effect. However, questions remain about the selection process for Task Force members.

After being criticized for a lack of transparency in connection with the 2016-2017 Massachusetts Child Support Task Force, the Trial Court has released the names of the 2020-2021 Task Force almost a year in advance of the state’s new Child Support Guidelines. The Trial Court’s announcement of the Task Force members nearly a year before the effective date of the new Child Support Guidelines is a marked departure from the Trial Court’s prior practice of publicly identifying Task Force members after the completion of the quadrennial Task Force Report.

The makeup of the current Task Force appears to include a greater share of Probate & Family Court judges and active family law attorneys compared to prior Task Forces. The new inclusion of additional Task Force members with child support expertise may reduce the recurrence of errors in the Guidelines worksheet, which hampered the rollout of the 2017 Guidelines.

The Task Force is seeking public comment by email at childsupport@jud.state.ma.us until December 15, 2020. The Trial Court’s press release indicated that the “Task Force will also be holding virtual public forums where brief oral statements may be made”, but has not released a schedule for public forums yet. It is unclear whether the public forums will occur after the public comment period closes on December 15, 2020.

Transparency Concerns Raised Over 2016-2017 Child Support Guidelines Task Force

In 2017, the Trial Court was criticized for delaying the release of the names of the members of the 2016-2017 Child Support Task Force from the public until the release of the 2017 Child Support Guidelines Task Force Report on July 17, 2017. The 2017 Guidelines, which became effect in September 2017, included multiple errors that required the creation amendments of the 2018 Child Support Guidelines and a new Guidelines worksheet in June 2018.

As noted by Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly, several Massachusetts family law bloggers argued that the errors in the 2017 Guidelines could have been avoided had the Task Force adopted a more transparent process.

2020-2021 Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines Task Force Includes More Family Law Attorneys and Judges

In its press release, the Massachusetts Trial Court identified the 15 members of the 2020-2021 Child Support Task Force as:

In general, the composition of the 2020-2021 Task Force is more heavily weighted towards practicing family law attorneys and Probate & Family Court judges, with a total of 11 practicing attorneys and current and former judges, compared to the six judges and practicing family law attorneys featured on the 2016-2017 Task Force.

Selection Process for Task Force Remains Unclear

The Trial Court selects the members of the Massachusetts Child Support Task Force every four years as part of a quadrennial review of the state’s Child Support Guidelines that is required under federal law. The selection process for inclusion on the Task Force has been shrouded in mystery for years. It remains unclear whether Task Force members are selected by the Chief Justice of the Trial Court, Hon. Paula M. Carey, Probate & Family Court Chief Hon. John D. Casey, or the senior staff at the Trial Court.

Our coverage of the 2016-2017 Task Force included quotes from State Rep. Shawn Dooley (R-Norfolk), a longtime Father’s Right advocate who described being invited to join the 2016-2017 Task Force by Chief Justice Carey as follows:

Dooley, R-Norfolk, said he was happy to join the group and said his appointment “came out of the blue” as it was not something he had asked for. He said Chief Justice Paula Carey of the Massachusetts Trial Court called him one day and asked him to serve. … “I was extremely honored to have been chosen by the chief justice for this role. It is nice to be noticed for my involvement with parenting rights as well as for my ability to work with differing groups to reach a consensus within the Legislature,” Dooley said.

The Trial Court’s inclusion of Dooley and other Father’s Rights activists in recent Task Forces appear to be part of a larger goal of lowering child support in Massachusetts since the 2013 Child Support Guidelines, which featured decreases in child support that prominent Father’s Rights advocates, the National Parents Organization, hailed as a “victory”.

About the Author: Jason V. Owens is a Massachusetts divorce lawyer and family law attorney for Lynch & Owens, located in Hingham, Massachusetts and East Sandwich, Massachusetts. He is also a mediator for South Shore Divorce Mediation.

Schedule a consultation with Jason V. Owens today at (781) 253-2049or send him an email.

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