Child Support 101 - Questions and Answers for New Jersey Parents
1. How much child support will I receive from—or pay to—my spouse?
Generally, child support is calculated by applying a formula that takes into consideration various factors, including but not limited to the family’s income and the amount of time each parent spends with the child. The formula, or the “Child Support Guidelines,” was developed by economists at the request of the Supreme Court of New Jersey, with the goal of providing for uniformity and fairness in child support awards throughout the State of New Jersey. The amount of child support paid by one parent to the other is therefore in most cases determined pursuant to the Child Support Guidelines. In extreme income situations or in the presence of other compelling circumstances, some deviations and/or supplements are permitted. Usually the child support is paid to the parent deemed to be the Parent of Primary Residence, or “Custodial Parent,” by the Parent of Alternate Residence, or “Noncustodial Parent.”
2. Do the Child Support Guidelines apply to all families?
The Guidelines do not apply in families with more than six children or if the children are over 18 and attending college away from home. Spouses also may deviate from the Guidelines for “good cause,” although a rebuttable presumption exists that the child support amount determined according to the Guidelines is the appropriate amount.
3. How is child support determined for higher income families?
For parents whose combined net (after tax) income exceeds the Guidelines threshold of $187,200, the law requires that child support be calculated so as to account for the greater resources available in the family and the greater expenditures that are typically made in higher income families. For higher income families, a base child support amount is determined using the Guidelines formula, and that amount is then supplemented with an additional support amount based on the remaining family income, the children’s needs, and certain other statutory factors. The children’s extracurricular expenses are one such consideration.
4. What expenses are covered by child support?
Under the Guidelines, the child support award covers fixed costs, including shelter and shelter-related costs; variable costs, including the cost of transportation and food for the child; and controlled costs, such as clothing, personal care, entertainment, and other miscellaneous expenses. The child support award also includes the first $250 of unreimbursed medical expenses per year, per child. Certain predictable, recurring expenses also may be added onto the child support award, such as work-related child care; health insurance (the marginal cost of adding a child to a health insurance plan); and predictable, recurring, unreimbursed health care expenses (in excess of the first $250 per child, per year). Other expenses may be added in as well, such as costs related to special needs and visitation transportation expenses.
5. What expenses are not covered by the child support amount I pay or receive?
There is some debate over this question. Generally speaking, unpredictable and/or non-recurring costs are not covered by or added into the child support obligation. Such costs may include the cost of private education, certain extracurricular activity costs, and the expense of special celebrations, such as a bar/bat mitzvah celebration or a “Sweet Sixteen” party. College tuition and related expenses also are not added into the child support obligation and are addressed separately.
6. Is child support modifiable?
Yes—child support is always subject to modification, whether upward or downward. The Court will downwardly modify a child support award if the party seeking the modification demonstrates that a non-temporary, substantial change in circumstances has occurred. The needs of the child are the underlying predicate for any modification. Such changes of circumstances may include (but are certainly not limited to) a non-temporary, substantial change in income, whether upward or downward; maturation of the child (as older children generally have more expensive needs than younger children); a change in the amount of time the child spends in one parent’s household versus the other parent’s household; or a change in the child’s needs. A payor’s child support obligation may be increased even if no circumstances have changed other than an increase his or her income. If a parent is bringing in more income, then the child has the right to have that circumstances inure to his or her benefit.
7. Until when is child support paid?
Child support is paid until the children are deemed emancipated either by the Court or pursuant to a marital settlement agreement. Children typically become emancipated once they graduate from college and/or begin working full-time. Other circumstances under which children become emancipated include if the child marries or joins the military. If the parties cannot agree as to whether emancipation has occurred, an application to the Court must be made.
8. If my spouse does not pay child support according to a Court order or a marital settlement agreement, what can I do?
Child support can be enforced by the payee spouse by making an application to the Court. An enforcement application does not need meet the same burden required of an application to modify support—in other words, to show a change of circumstances. However, it is possible that an enforcement application could be answered by the payor with a cross-application to the Court for modification. In addition to being enforced by the payee, child support also can be enforced by the Court itself, if the support obligation is paid through an administrative division of the Court called the Probation Department. Under such circumstances, because the payments are made through the Court itself, the Court is able to monitor payments and implement enforcement measures even without intervention by the payee spouse. These enforcement measures include holding enforcement hearings in Court, suspension of professional and driver’s licenses until the payor meets his or her obligation, and even incarceration.
9. What if something were to happen to the payor spouse before the children become emancipated?
As part of a matrimonial settlement agreement, the divorcing spouses can agree that the payor will take out a life insurance policy in an amount sufficient to secure his or her child support obligation. Alternatively, the payor may be ordered by the Court to secure his or her child support obligation through maintenance of a life insurance policy.
The above is a general overview of child support in New Jersey, portions of which may or may not apply to your circumstances. If you have questions about child support, you may need the guidance of an experienced family law attorney. The family law attorneys of Riker Danzig can help you deal with the most complex child support questions and all other aspects of family law.