If you are a parent going through a divorce, or if you have never been married to your child’s other parent and have decided to end the relationship, you may need information about child support. In New Jersey, both parents are obligated to support their children.
New Jersey follows the “Income Shares Model” of support. Courts ordering support refer to the current version of the New Jersey Child Support Guidelines contained in Court Rule 5:6A and Appendix IX. The guidelines approximate a total support amount that parents would spend on a child in an intact family unit and then split this amount proportionately between the parents according to their incomes. The guidelines are quite complex and detailed; this article provides only a brief overview.
You can estimate the amount of support a New Jersey judge might order by determining the total income available for support from both parents and then completing either the Sole Parenting Worksheet (Appendix IX C) or the Shared Parenting Worksheet (Appendix IX D). Courts require these worksheets in all cases where a parent seeks to establish or modify (change) child support. You can also get a rough estimate of support by accessing the quick calculator available from the New Jersey Department of Human Services. The New Jersey Department of Human Services is the state agency responsible for helping parents obtain and enforce child support orders, including locating absent parents and establishing paternity, if necessary. More information is available on their website.
Guideline child support is based on the combined net income—gross income minus allowable deductions—of both parents. Gross income includes wages, commissions, self-employment income, bonuses, dividend or interest income, rent, worker’s compensation or unemployment insurance benefits, and pensions.From gross income, you can deduct income taxes, mandatory union dues, mandatory retirement contributions, and support that a parent pays for children of other relationships or to a former spouse pursuant to court order. If you have children of other relationships living with you, you may be able to deduct an amount for support of those children as well. Appendix IX-B contains a detailed explanation of how to determine income under the guidelines, as well as instructions for completing both the Sole Parenting and Shared Parenting Worksheets.
In a sole parenting situation, the parent with whom the children live the majority of the time receives a higher percentage of the total income available for support, as courts presume that this parent pays more direct costs of child-rearing and has higher fixed expenses (primarily housing expenses). In general, you should use the Sole Parenting Worksheet if one parent has physical custody of the children and the other parent is exercising “PAR” (parent of alternate residence) time that is less than two regular overnight visitation periods—or two visitation periods of more than 12 hours each—per week. In most cases, a non-custodial parent who pays support according to the Sole Parenting Worksheet receives an adjustment based on the amount of PAR time for payment of variable expenses such as food and transportation during visitation. The non-custodial parent can also seek a partial reduction of support during extended holiday or vacation visitation periods of five or more overnights.
If your children are with each parent for the equivalent of more than two overnight periods per week, you should choose the Shared Parenting Worksheet. In shared parenting arrangements, courts designate one parent as the “PPR” (parent of primary residence) and the other parent as the PAR. The PPR is the parent with whom the child spends more overnight time, or if time is equal, the parent with whom the child resides while attending school. In some shared parenting situations a court will find use of the Sole Parenting Worksheet more appropriate. These include split parenting arrangements where there are multiple children and at least one child resides with each parent, and situations where the PPR’s net household income from all sources would be less than twice the poverty guideline under the shared parenting calculation.
Each worksheet provides for the addition of certain predictable and recurring expenses after calculation of the basic support obligation. Additional expenses generally include the cost (after any applicable tax credits) of necessary work-related child care, a parent’s marginal cost of adding a child to a health insurance policy, and any predictable and recurring unreimbursed health care expenses over $250 per child per year. Depending on the circumstances of a particular case, a court may also add other predictable and recurring expenses, such as private school tuition, expenses for special needs or gifted children, or the cost of transportation for visitation. Health care expenses that exceed $250 per child per year but are not predictable and recurring are generally shared by the parents in proportion to their relative incomes, as are any other non-recurring special expenses.
A court who finds that either parent is voluntarily unemployed or underemployed will estimate the parent’s potential earning capacity in light of factors such as work history, training, education, and available jobs in the area, and may calculate child support based on such income. A parent caring for young children is entitled to an offset for any child care expenses that would be necessary to work.
A court will modify a child support order only if there has been a material and ongoing change in circumstances. Although New Jersey law does not fix a specific age at which a parent is no longer obligated to support a child, the child support guidelines are not applicable to children who are over 18 and have graduated from high school. Support will terminate automatically if a support order includes a specific termination date or event, and a parent can file papers requesting termination or adjustment of a support order once a child turns 18 or achieves financial independence. New Jersey courts will sometimes order a parent to contribute to the support of a child over the age of 18 who is attending college full-time; however courts must give priority to any minor children and may not use the child support guidelines as a basis for awarding support unless a student is commuting to college.
There are many situations beyond those mentioned in this article in which a court may order support that varies from the guidelines. Appendix IX-A contains a detailed discussion of such circumstances. A court deviating from the guidelines must state the reasons for the deviation in writing.