The New Jersey Child Support Guidelines are among the most comprehensive, and complicated, in the nation. While other states set child support at a certain percentage of income, New Jersey established a system of basing support on the amount of time a parent actually spends with a child and the true costs associated with that time together.The First Step
The first step in establishing the Basic Child Support Obligation is determining the gross and net income of the parents. Gross income includes wages, fees, tips, commissions, rental income, interest dividends, overtime, bonuses, royalties, annuity payments, distributions from retirement plans, disability grants, unemployment benefits, workers’ compensation benefits, severance pay, income tax rebates, and barter payments. Alimony is also included as income and, thus, must be determined before child support is determined. Parents whom the Court finds to be voluntarily unemployed or underemployed will have income imputed to them. The imputed income will be based on the potential earning capacity of the parent, using work history qualifications and prevailing job opportunities. An adjustment in the Basic Child Support Obligation can be made if one parent has a second family.
Based on Net Income
The Basic Child Support Obligation is based on net income. Net income is determined by subtracting from gross income such things as some taxes, mandatory union dues, mandatory retirement payments, and previously ordered child support payments. Voluntary deductions for such things as savings plans, extra insurance, and 401k plans are not deducted from gross income for the purpose of determining child support.
The biggest change in the New Jersey Guidelines, is the adjustment for co-parenting time. This is not a dollar-for-dollar credit for the money that a parent spends on a child during visitation, though. Rather, the adjustment is an attempt to reflect the fact that certain variable costs associated with a child are shifted between the parents when the child spends significant time each week with both parents. Usually, if a child spends two or more overnights per week (“overnight” meaning the majority of a twenty-four hour day), then the custodial parent is designated as the “parent of primary residence” and the non-custodial parent is designated the “parent of alternate residence”. Then, the basic child support award is broken into its components.
Discretion to Modify
The new Child Support Guidelines also give the Courts the discretion to modify support amounts in exceptional circumstances. These include families where there are multiple children and each parent has physical custody of at least one child. Modifications to Guidelines may also be made when the children reach their teen years. Our Courts have recognized that it costs less to raise a young child than a teenager. The Guidelines apply to children who are younger than eighteen years of age, but continued financial support can be ordered for children attending post-secondary schools. Discretion in establishing support is also to be used when the family’s net combined income exceeds about $150,000.00; there are more than six children in a household; the child has his or her own extraordinary income; there are special needs for gifted or disabled children; a parent has extraordinary medical or educational expenses for himself or herself; or there were substantial financial obligations for elder care that existed before the filing of the child support action.
This is only a brief overview of this complicated law. We are always willing to answer questions you may have about a specific situation.