You live in New Jersey, you're divorced and have children. Your divorce judgment provides for child support. Now you've met someone new, love has blossomed, and you're thinking about remarrying, but wondering how this may affect your child support payments. This article provides on overview of how remarriage impacts child support in New Jersey. If you have questions after reading this article, you should contact a local attorney for advice.
New Jersey has enacted guidelines to provide its family court judges with information and a general formula to assist them in establishing child support awards. The purpose of the guidelines is to attempt to determine how much of parents' net income was spent on their children prior to divorce or separation, and to apply that figure, as best as possible, to support of the children afterwards. Obviously it's more difficult to support two households with the same income that was used to support just one, but the thinking is that children should not be denied the same opportunities they would have had if the divorce or separation had not occurred.
In New Jersey, guideline support is presumed correct in any given case. However, that presumption is rebuttable, meaning that there may be circumstances in which using the guidelines might not be appropriate. It is solely up to the judge to decide whether those circumstances exist and whether they present good cause to depart from the guidelines.
What if a child support order is already in place, and you believe that it needs to be revised? Can that be done? Yes, but only if circumstances have changed enough for a judge to decide that keeping the current order would not be fair. And this is where remarriage may come into play.
In and of itself, remarriage doesn't necessarily impact child support. Whether you, your ex, or both, have remarried, the new spouse isn't obligated to support your children from a prior marriage or relationship.
However, the issue of remarriage gets a bit trickier when new children arrive, meaning children born or adopted into the newly-formed family, since these children are also your legal dependents.
In the past, under what is known as common law, if you were paying child support, having a new child would not have been a valid reason for changing the support order. The argument was that your primary obligation was to the children from your prior marriage, and if you decided to have more children, that was your problem. This is no longer the case.
Today, the New Jersey child support guidelines list, "other legal dependents of either parent" as a factor courts may consider when deciding whether to adjust a support order. The reasoning behind this is that you have every right to start a new family, and your new children should not be denied the benefit of your income because of your prior marriage.
If you believe that your child support order needs to be adjusted, you must make a formal request to the family court. You will have to submit financial documents (similar to what you provided when the original child support order was issued). This will give the judge necessary information about your current income, expenses, and assets.
When you request a child support modification, you will also have to provide your current spouse's income information. Even though the New Jersey guidelines make it clear that a new spouse's income isn't considered your own income when calculating child support, it is still relevant to the decision.
When setting child support, courts must consider the paying parent's ability to cover his or her own household expenses. Your new spouse is probably contributing to expenses, such as the mortgage or rent, utilities, and groceries. As a result of your remarriage, you are spending less of your individual income on household costs, and thus have more income available for your children. A new spouse's income helps the judge calculate how much that spouse should be contributing to household expenses.
What if either parent (or a parent's new spouse) is something of a deadbeat? Someone who, without a valid reason, is voluntarily unemployed or underemployed, resulting in smaller income amounts. Can people get away with that? Not really. If such facts are brought to the court's attention, a judge will usually attribute or "impute" some income to the deadbeat. This imputed amount generally reflects what he or she could be earning. In order to arrive at an appropriate amount, judges will look at several factors, including:
Once all relevant information about everyone's current financial status has been submitted, the judge will assess the situation, using the applicable law. Based on that evaluation, the judge will decide whether (and how much) to change the existing child support order.
Please be aware that this article is just a synopsis of a subject that is quite complex. It is only meant to give you a general idea of the issues involved with the topic of remarriage and child support in New Jersey. If you find yourself in this situation, be sure to consult a qualified family law attorney with any questions you may have.