New Jersey follows an “Income Shares Model” of child support. The current New Jersey Child Support Guidelines are contained in Court Rule 5:6A and Appendix IX. Courts awarding support divide the total amount parents would normally spend on a child in an intact family unit (the “basic child support amount,” from Appendix IX-F) between the parents in proportion to their incomes, and then make additional adjustments based on the amount of time a child spends with each parent. Both the basic support amount and the time-share adjustment will vary depending on whether a court uses the Sole Parenting Worksheet (Appendix IX C) or the Shared Parenting Worksheet (Appendix IX D).
A court will also add certain predictable and recurring expenses to the basic support obligation, and divide them according to income share. These expenses may include the cost of necessary work-related child care (minus any tax credits), the cost of adding a child to a health insurance policy, and any predictable and recurring health care expenses exceeding $250 per child per year. If a child has unpredictable health care expenses of more than $250 per year, the court will usually order parents to share them as they arise.
For more information about calculating New Jersey child support, see Child Support in New Jersey, by Susan Bishop.
A support award can also include a share of predictable and recurring special (or “extraordinary”) expenses, and courts can order parents to share costs of unpredictable, extraordinary expenses as they arise. The parent who pays the expenses will have to provide receipts. Extraordinary expenses are generally limited to private school tuition, expenses for special needs or gifted children, and costs of visitation transportation. The basic child support amounts already include the cost of normal entertainment expenses, including hobbies, lessons, and other recreational activities, so a parent seeking a contribution for these types of activities would have to justify them as “extraordinary” based on a child’s special needs or talents. If the parents have a very high combined net income, however, the lower-income parent may request additional support for such activities (see below).
If one parent believes that certain extraordinary expenses are unnecessary, the parent requesting a contribution will have to prove the expense is reasonable in light of the child’s best interests and the parents’ combined ability to pay. For example, a request for contribution to private school tuition must be supported by a showing that the parents can afford the school and that the school is appropriate considering the child’s educational history and the quality of available public schools.
High Income Parents and Additional Support
The basic child support amounts apply to parents with combined annual net incomes of up to $187,200 per year. If parents' incomes are higher, a court will award the maximum basic support amount and then add an additional amount after considering all relevant factors, including:
- the child's needs
- each parent’s economic circumstances and standard of living
- each parent’s assets and sources of income
- each parent’s earning ability, in light of educational background, work experience, training and skills, custodial responsibility for children (including child care costs), and the length of time and cost necessary to obtain training or experience
- the child’s need and capacity for education, including higher education
- the ages and health of the child and both parents
- the child's income, assets, or earning ability
- the responsibility of either parent for court-ordered support of others, and
- any reasonable debts and liabilities of the child or either parent.
A court must consider the listed factors and can’t simply increase the basic support amount in proportion to the higher income. A parent requesting additional support will have to prepare a budget showing expenses attributable to the child’s needs and specifically listing items they need to share in the standard of living of the higher-income parent. Examples of items a court might consider include the following:
- tutoring, sports clinics, summer camps, study broad, and art or music lessons
- a car for a child of driving age
- an increased clothing allowance for a teenager
- more expensive vacations
- increased maintenance on a child’s primary residence, and
- savings accounts, college investment accounts, and trusts for future needs.
While courts require parents to differentiate between their own expenses and their child’s expenses, they also recognize that some overlap is unavoidable and allow a custodial parent limited incidental benefits due to the overlap.
Courts recognize that high-income families present unique issues. While children have a right to share in their high-income parents' standard of living, judges tend to be cautious about preventing parents from directing their children's lifestyles. A loving and reasonable parent that has the ability to provide a child with every conceivable advantage, won’t necessarily always choose to do so and might even consider doing so to be harmful to the child’s development. A court will provide for increased needs in accordance with increased ability to pay, but will also consider any danger of overindulgence.