This article will explain how child support orders are enforced in the State of New Jersey. If you have any questions about child support enforcement after you read this article, you should contact a family law attorney for advice.
In New Jersey, child support is intended to pay for the basic care (food, shelter, clothing, education) and medical support (insurance premiums and out-of-pocket costs) of children. For purposes of this article, the parent who receives child support is known as the “receiving parent,” while the parent who has to pay is called “the paying parent.”
The parent who has physical custody (meaning, the parent who cares for the children more frequently) spends a greater percentage of time with the children. That parent pays for more of the children’s needs by virtue of the fact that they're together more often. So the other parent (also known as the non-custodial parent), who spends less time with the children, has to make regularly scheduled child support payments in order to ensure that each parent is paying a fair share of the children's expenses.
Whether you’re divorcing or you’ve never been married, when your relationship ends you need to get an official child support order. In New Jersey, child support orders are determined according to each parent's combined net income and a mathematical formula known as the child support guidelines. For more information, see Child Support in New Jersey by Susan Bishop and New Jersey Child Support, Part 2 by Lina Guillen.
Child support can be an area of high conflict for parents. Paying parents wonder if the receiving parent is using any of the child support on themselves, say for fancy clothing and nights out on the town. Receiving parents, on the other hand, are resentful because they spend so much time worrying whether they’ll have enough money to make it to the next pay period.
When these conflicts arise, some paying parents simply decide to stop making payments. Receiving parents scramble to make ends meet and may need help collecting overdue child support. There are several ways to enforce an existing child support order.
The New Jersey Department of Human Services is a state agency serving the citizens of New Jersey. It provides services for health care, disability programming, welfare, families, mental health, and addiction. Within the Department is a separate unit called the Office of Child Support Services (OCSS). The purpose of OCSS is to enforce state and federal laws about child support.
OCSS performs critical child support functions. It uses an administrative (non-judicial) process to:
OCSS can use collection and enforcement measures when paying parents aren’t meeting their child support obligations.
However, family court judges can also enforce child support and issue new orders aimed at collecting overdue support. If the local OCSS office is backlogged, parents might find it’s in their best interest to locate a private lawyer or legal aid attorney who can go to court and argue to a judge on their behalf.
OCSS has an array of powerful tools it can use to obtain payment from parents with past-due child support accounts (known as arrearages). They include, but are not limited to:
If you’re a paying parent, make it your first financial priority to keep up with your child support obligation. You don't want to fall into arrearages and have OCSS coming down on you. If you're a receiving parent, it's important that you understand all the enforcement mechanisms that OCSS can take against a parent who's failed to pay child support. Understanding the laws and the options will prepare you to contact OCSS and ask them to take the appropriate action to ensure that your children are financially supported and have what they need to thrive.
New Jersey Courts: Self-Help Resource Center
Legal Services of New Jersey (child support topics and legal aid for qualifying individuals)
New Jersey Department of Human Services: Office of Child Support Services