For a couple residing in Massachusetts, the Man makes $100,000 /yr before taxes. The wife in last 13 years had mostly stayed at home, or brought in a very small fraction of the family income from non-continuous employment. However, she is well educated (with some of the training was done during the time of marriage) and potentially can make some $40,000 /yr. Moreover, over the years of marriage, the Man urged the Wife to seek a job and develop a career, but she was reluctant to do so.

Their total saving amounts to $150,000 (both cash and Man's IRA). The couple has 2 minor kids.

Now, the Wife wants to divorce (the Man does not).

The MA law regarding Child-Support is formulated in a formula that's seemingly simple - but some caveats hide there. Even more so is the formula for Alimony.

What is the Man expected to pay and for how long, assuming 50% custody over the kids?


  1. Does the court consider the Wife's potential income?

  2. What does the "Income used to calculate Child Support" entry in the Alimony formula means? Is it the whole Man's gross income (in this case, no Alimony is expected)?

  3. Is there a way not to equally divide the couple's assets, mainly based on the fact that all savings are from the Man's income?

1 Answer 1


What is the Man expected to pay and for how long, assuming 50% custody over the kids?

I'm not going to answer this part of the question very specifically as it strays to close to the individualized legal advice that Law.SE does not provide.

Also, in a domestic relations action there is not one reliable and predictable answer to this question. Even if the facts are identical, different judges have the authority to reach different results that would both be upheld on appeal as not constituting an abuse of discretion.


As a general rule in Massachusetts, in a 13 year marriage, alimony is not awarded for more than 70% of the length of the marriage (about 9 years or less).

The starting point for a "general alimony" determination is about one-third of the difference income between the spouses in Massachusetts, but that is only a starting point and can be modified for a variety of reasons. Judges have considerable discretion in varying an alimony award from this starting point. But, if the purpose of the alimony award is more specific, the amount may vary considerably based upon that justification.

Child Support

As a general rule in Massachusetts, child support lasts until (1) there are no children of child support age who are not emancipated, or (2) until the parents income and the children's custody arrangements are such that they balance out and leave no net child support obligation in either direction (with 50-50 parenting time, this would imply roughly equal incomes), although child support could be reinstated if that balance changes.

How long a child is eligible for child support varies in MA. It can end as soon as a child is age eighteen and no longer in high school (or earlier if a child is emancipated, for example, upon marriage) for that child, and can last as long as until a child is 23 years old if the child is "principally dependent" upon a parent and enrolled in college as an undergraduate or disabled in some way.

The child support calculation is rather intricate and the guideline amount which is used as a firm starting point in the determination is determined based upon resources found here. Basically, the calculation is a function of: (1) each spouse's income, (2) the number of nights that each child spends with each parent, (3) any extraordinary expenses related to a particular child, and (4) payment of certain expenses (like health insurance) in lieu of cash child support payments.

A rule of thumb in a case with 50-50 parenting time and two children is that child support will be about 1/8th of the difference in income between the parties, but this is a quite crude estimate.

Does the court consider the Wife's potential income?

A court will consider a wife's potential income if a husband can prove by a preponderance of the evidence with affirmative factual support that she can earn that potential income in light of the parenting arrangements in place and a possible need to obtain further education or training to become more employable in the long run.

Getting a court to impute income equal to 30 hours a week at minimum wage isn't too challenging. Getting a court to impute a significantly higher income will usually take expert testimony or a long history of higher earnings. In the factual situation you present, the possibility that a well educated spouse "could earn" $40,000 is unlikely to be accepted by a judge since there is no history of that kind of earnings. Imputed income is usually, in practice, based upon what a spouse can "definitely earn" and not what a spouse "could earn" in an average situation. Judges are very reluctant to impose child support or alimony obligations based upon "phantom income" without quite convincing evidence that a failure to earn income is predominantly willful rather than due to an inability to do so.

A court will also consider potential income if it appears that a spouse is deliberately underemployed for the purpose of manipulating child support and/or alimony obligations. Whether this is the case is usually based upon historical precedents of earnings. If someone has never had significant income in the past, the court is unlikely to assign much potential income to a spouse. If a spouse used to make a lot of money and suddenly sees a drop in income around the time of the divorce for no easily explainable reason, the court is likely to find that the spouse could earn more and has decided not to in order to manipulate the process.

When a court considers potential income this is called "imputed income".

A court may also impute income, relative to what is official reported on tax returns, if there is proof by a preponderance of the evidence that a spouse is concealing a substantial amount of income (e.g. if there is evidence that a barber only reports half of the income that he or she actually receives, or that a self-employed person receives significant income "in kind" in barter transactions).

What does the "Income used to calculate Child Support" entry in the Alimony formula means? Is it the whole Man's gross income (in this case, no Alimony is expected)?

There is a very detailed statutory definition of "income used to calculate child support."

This definition of income is broader than the definition of taxable income in some respects (e.g. it would include annuities received as a matter of right from a trust that has already been taxed on that income and that is therefore not taxable income, or earned income that is tax free such as a pastor's housing allowance), and it is narrower than the definition of taxable income in other respects (e.g. some things that could be considered investment income for tax purposes is treated exclusively as an asset to be divided in a property division for child support and alimony purposes). Certain second jobs after someone is already working 40 hours a week are not considered as income for child support purposes.

Some kinds of income that cannot be considered for child support purposes, such as a regular and consistent pattern of receiving economic support from family, might be considered by a judge for alimony purposes.

Is there a way not to equally divide the couple's assets, mainly based on the fact that all savings are from the Man's income?

A couple's assets are not always equally divided, but the fact that all savings are from the Man's income is not a reason for doing so.

For domestic relations law purposes, all income earned by either spouse during the marriage is going to be considered to have been earned equally by both spouses in the absence of a prenuptial agreement. This is called the "partnership theory of marriage."

Six of the most common reasons for a couple's assets to be divided unequally are:

  • The assets are "lumpy" and are as a result, not easily divided.

For example, suppose that 90% of the couple's net worth is equity in a commercial fishing boat that the husband operates for his livelihood. In a case like that, the husband might be awarded the fishing boat, and the wife might be awarded more alimony and/or a promissory note with the fishing boat as collateral that the wife would receive to balance out the award of the fishing boat to the husband.

  • The court wants to more completely disentangle the couple financially and reduce non-payment risk associated with alimony.

For example, suppose that the couple has easy to divide assets (e.g mostly a large amounts of cash in a savings account), and the husband would ordinarily be required to pay substantial alimony to the wife. The court might award all or most of the cash to the wife, rather than just splitting it 50-50 in exchange for reducing or eliminating the husband's alimony obligation.

An unequal division of assets could also be made in which some of the property award is treated as "prepaid child support" that is a credit against future child support obligations, although this is less common, and would ordinarily be done only when the spouse owing child support is self-employed or lives abroad or for some other reason would be expected to be particularly hard to collect child support from going forward.

  • The court may be honoring the pre-marital status quo, or honoring the inequalities created by gift and inheritances from one spouse's family.

Suppose that a wife comes to the marriage with a net worth of $10,000,000 and the husband comes to the marriage with a net worth of $100,000. Two years later they divorce. The court may try mostly to return the couple to the pre-marital status quo, rather than trying to give each an equal share of the couple's assets.

  • The court may be implementing the terms of a valid prenuptial agreement.

This is pretty self-explanatory.

  • The court may be punishing "economic waste" by a spouse.

For example, suppose that husband and wife were joint owners of a residence and a vacation home of equal value. When they separate, husband burns down the vacation house out of spite because he knows that his wife is attached to it (insurance does not pay for the loss because it arises from an intentional act of an owner of the property, but arson charges are dismissed after the first trial ends in a hung jury). The court might award the husband the vacation house and the wife the residence, equalizing the property division based upon the pre-arson value of the houses, rather than equalizing the time of divorce value of the house, to punish the husband for making the total amount of property available to distribute smaller through conduct more culpable than mere negligence or incompetence.

  • The court may make an unequal property division based upon economic need.

For example, suppose that husband needs a drug that costs $5,000 a month to stay alive and functional, while wife does not, and both husband and wife are retired and have no earned income. The court might award a disproportionate share of the marital property to the husband to reflect his greater economic need for funds.

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