There are many things in life that are uncertain. One thing, however, is fairly certain, in New Jersey: every child is entitled to be supported by his or her parents. However, each young person has different needs. Child support for divorcing spouses can require the advice of a skilled family law lawyer, since parents may disagree on the best interests of their children. The Middlesex and Monmouth County child support lawyers at Goldstein Law Group have over 100 years of combined experience advocating for our clients' interests in these matters.Deciding a Child Support Arrangement
In New Jersey, the courts award child support based on a specific system called the Ne Jersey Child Support Guidelines. This is a complex formula that assumes child support is the duty of both parents, children are entitled to share in their parents' income, and children should not be economically harmed by divorce or birth outside marriage.
The Guidelines usually assume that the child primarily lives with one parent. In days past, that person was referred to as the custodial parent. The other parent was referred to as the “non-custodial parent.” Both these terms were updated under more recent legislation. The custodial parent is now referred to as the “Parent of Primary Residence,” or “the P.P.R.” The non-custodial parent is now referred to as “the Parent of Alternate Residence” or, the “P.A.R.” Generally, the P.A.R. will pay child support to the P.P.R. He or she may feel resentment about having to pay support, but this is arranged for the child's benefit rather than to help the custodial parent. In fact, many cases in New Jersey have been decided over the years that confirm that the right to the child support belongs to the child, and it is not something that the P.P.R. can bargain away. The cost of raising children is allocated between both parents. It is based on a number of factors, the most significant of which is the respective incomes of the parents. Then, there are certain further calculations and adjustments based on whether there are other dependents, health insurance costs for the child, the time sharing arrangement, or health care expenses. Daycare expense is added to the child support obligation. It is IN ADDITION to, not a part of, the basic child support amount. The daycare expense is generally allocated between the two parents based upon the ration of their respective incomes to one another.
Child support involves fixed expenses, variable expenses, and controlled expenses. Fixed expenses are those incurred regardless of whom the child is living with, such as the mortgage or rent for the child's housing and the furniture. Variable costs, such as food and transportation, are incurred by parents only when they are with the child. Controlled expenses include such items as the child’s clothing and entertainment, and it is assumed that only the child's primary custodial parent incurs these.
However, depending on how much time a child spends with a non-custodial (the P.A.R.) parent, the costs for the child and the parent will change. A child support attorney can help Monmouth and Middlesex County residents understand how this process works. When a child spends an average of two or more overnights per week (i.e.- 28% or more of the overnights each month) in the non-custodial (P.A.R.’s) parent's household, this triggers the use of the ‘shared parenting” guidelines worksheet, as opposed to the “sole parenting” worksheet. Note, the terms “shared parenting” and “sole parenting”, as used in the Guidelines context is different than when used in the sense of physical custody. For example, “shared custody” in the context of the child’s living arrangements is generally used when the child lives with each parent fifty (50%) of the time. However, for fixing a child support amount, the use of the “shared parenting” worksheet is triggered when a child spends an average of twenty eight (28%) of the child’s overnights, on a monthly basis, with the P.A.R.
When the shared parenting worksheet is triggered, the effect of it is an adjustment to the child support award whereby the amount is lowered because of the fact the P.A.R. is now incurring some of those controlled expenses instead of the P.P.R. as a result of this increased level of parenting time. Thus, beware! This is why some spouses seek to either reach or prevent this 28% amount of parenting time from occurring for reasons linked solely to the amount of child support received or paid, as the case may be, and have nothing to do with the child’s true best interest! Don’t let this happen to you!
The Guidelines average the cost of raising a child from birth to 17 years old. It is less expensive to raise an infant than a teenager, so the assumption is that a surplus of support builds over the early years to help the child later on. If the very first child support order between the parents is first entered when a child is 12 or older, the Guidelines provide for the PPR to receive an additional amount of support (increased by 14.6% for the support attributable to each such child that is 12 or older as of the date of the first order being entered). This is to compensate that PPR for the additional support to cover the costs of raising a teenager, since the PPR would not have been receiving child support when the child was younger, and the costs were lower.
Although the process is governed by a formula, many family financial situations have nuances that may affect issues of support. For example, children with special needs, families where the grandparents or stepparents have custody, families with college age kids, children that are 18 years or older (the Guidelines do not apply to them, even though they may still not be emancipated) and very wealthy or very low income families may have some special considerations. The costs of work-related day care and health insurance also need to be factored into the formula in your case. An attorney can sit down with you to review your situation, calculate the appropriate amount of support, and determine whether a variation from the formula is appropriate.
When there is a “substantial change in circumstances”, we can help you ask the court for a modification of an existing child support order. Generally, if you are a Title IV-D support case, you are entitled to an automatic review every three years to determine if the amount being paid in child support is appropriate. The age of the child can affect how much money is paid.Termination or Modification of Child Support Obligations
You may be entitled to terminate your child support obligation if certain factors are met or if your child is “emancipated”. Emancipation doesn’t simply mean that your child is 18 years or older. That is the age of “majority”, which may, in some instances, also be the same as a child’s emancipation. Generally, emancipation occurs when a child has moved beyond the sphere of influence of the parent(s). It will typically occur when a child completes his or her high school education or reaches the age of 18, whichever last occurs, unless the child then continues on to college or vocational/trade school, on a full time basis. If so, the child would not typically be emancipated until the completion of that curriculum. Or, if the child marries, or joins the armed forces, the child would be emancipated. Parents should be able to reach a consent agreement when such an emancipation event occurs. However, that’s not always that easy. Sometimes, it’s necessary to enlist the assistance of knowledgeable legal counsel to address the continuation or termination of support for the payee or the obligor.Modification of Child Support Obligations
There are many reasons why a child support obligation may be modified. They can include the following (which is not an exhaustive list):
Age of the child/ Attendance at College/Trade School away from Home:
The support payable for a child that reaches age 18 and/or lives away from the child’s primary residence during the school year in order to attend college or trade school, will typically require a re-examination and recalculation of the child support amount. This will depend on various factors including what, if any, costs of the child’s room and board is being paid by either or both parents. There are many cases that have addressed these nuances in New Jersey.
A change in the parents’ income(s):
Generally, the mathematical formula behind the Guidelines calculation is driven, most heavily, by the obligor/payer’s income. That’s not to say that the payee/recipient’s income is of no consequence. It certainly is; however, the major factor which effects the amount of child support the obligor will pay is the obligor’s level of income. Accordingly, if the obligor’s income changes, substantially, up or down, it can serve as a basis for a modification of the support amount. The change can’t be temporary, though. There are many subtle factors that affect the potential right to seek a modification of the child support. Speak with an experienced attorney at Goldstein Law Group to determine if the child support you pay, or the child support you receive, is appropriate in your situation.Explore Your Options with a Child Support Lawyer in Monmouth or Middlesex County
At Goldstein Law Group, our divorce attorneys have over one hundred years of combined experience helping families throughout Middlesex County and elsewhere throughout the State of New Jersey with their financial circumstances. We can look at whether a variation from the Guidelines is appropriate in your case and advocate before the court on your behalf. We have assisted individuals from Rumson, Red Bank, and Old Bridge, among other communities across the state. You can contact our Middlesex and Monmouth County child support attorneys at 732-967-6777 or via our online form.