The Superior Court in New Jersey is divided into three divisions: Criminal, Civil and Family. Each division handles countless cases each year and, in the Family Division, there are a large number of petitions filed annually involving issues concerning Child Support. Litigants ask the Court to decide issues such as how much child support should be paid, when child support should be increased, decreased or stopped, who should pay for medical care and un-reimbursed medical costs and who should pay for child care and/or schooling and/or after school care – just to name a few. The issues and the arguments are varied and endless. Every fact pattern is unique and each petition must be decided on a case by case basis. Given the complexity of the issues and the serious financial implications, it is advisable to seek legal counsel when you are dealing with these issues.
To determine the most basic of the issues – child support – the Court is guided by the New Jersey Child Support Guidelines. These Guidelines were developed with the premise that child support is the continuous duty of both parents, children are entitled to share in the incomes of the parents and children should not be economic victims of divorce or out-of-wedlock birth. With few exceptions, the Child Support Guidelines are applied and form the basis of every order where the Court is asked to establish or modify child support. The child support award that is generated by these Guidelines is presumed to be the correct amount of child support unless the parent can prove to the court that the Guideline-based award is inappropriate in their particular circumstance. For the vast majority of cases, the child support award will be made in accordance with the Guidelines which is why it is important to have legal counsel so that you will be able to understand – and argue – your points to the Court.
The fact that many parents struggle with is that the Child Support Guidelines take into account their gross earnings but not their expenses. While there are some exceptions, such as the expenses related to child care and medical coverage, expenses are not put into the calculation. Naturally this is a difficult reality given the struggle just to pay the bills. However, child support awards are based on how much the parents earn with the understanding that parents must spend a certain percentage of their earnings on the care and support of their children. In an intact family, the understanding is that income is pooled and spent for the benefit of the family members, to include the children. If parents have equal earnings, it is assumed that they each share 50% towards the costs incurred to raise the child. Thus, when a child support award is calculated, that same principal is applied and the Court looks to the relative incomes of both parents.
Parents who are unemployed are not exempt from a child support award but, rather, the Court will “impute” a certain income to that parent based on either their earning history or their earning potential. For instance, if one of the parents worked as a teacher for most of their working life, the salary that they earned in that position will be used to calculate the support award even if they no longer have that position – either because they retired, were fired or if they chose to leave their job. Parents do not have the option of avoiding a child support award by being voluntarily unemployed – or – underemployed.
Although the principal behind the award of child support is to provide children of single or divorced families with a standard of living that equates to children of intact families, the unfortunate fact is that the standard of living for a child in either a single family or a divorced family will usually decline since less total money is available when parents divorce and live separately. There is just no way to get around the fact that it simply costs more to run two households than a single household. That being said, the Court does make every effort to maintain the child’s standard of living.
If you are struggling to maintain your household with your current child support order, please understand that child support orders can be reviewed and changed – they are not static orders. If you have questions it is important that you seek legal counsel so that you will be aware of your rights with regard to a change in your child support order.
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