Child support is financial support, or money, that one parent pays to the other to meet the basic needs of their children for things like food, clothing, health care, housing, and education. For purposes of child support law in New Jersey, the “obligor” is the parent who has to pay child support and the “obligee” is the parent that receives child support. The obligee is typically the custodial parent or the parent with more custodial time.
It’s important to note that while financial support may be paid to a parent, it doesn’t belong to that parent. Child support is an obligation that’s owed to the child, not the child’s parent. The obligor simply pays child support to the obligee on behalf of the child.
If you’re paying child support in New Jersey, then a court has ordered you to pay financial support for your children in an amount that was determined by the New Jersey child support guidelines, which can be reviewed here. The guidelines establish support awards based on various factors, such as gross income.
For more information about how courts calculate child support in New Jersey, please see Child Support in New Jersey, by Susan Bishop.
Either parent can request a modification (change) to a child support obligation. If you’re the obligor and you can’t afford to pay everything you owe, or if you’re the obligee and you can’t afford to make ends meet based on the current amount of support, you can ask a court to modify child support.
A major case from the New Jersey courts sets the standard for modification of child support orders. It says that if a parent is experiencing “changed circumstances,” the parent can file a motion with the court and ask the judge to grant relief by increasing or reducing the award.
The term "changed circumstances” has a specific legal meaning. The changes have to be permanent, substantial (major), and unanticipated (meaning, they weren’t totally unforeseeable but they couldn’t have been predicted). If your circumstances are only temporary or if they haven’t yet occurred, your modification request will be denied.
If a parent wants to modify a child support order, the parent seeking the modification has the burden of proving to the judge that the changed circumstances are permanent, substantial, and unanticipated. If the parent can’t prove this to the judge’s satisfaction, then the other parent doesn’t have to give the court current financial information.
If the judge agrees that the parent seeking the modification has proved that there are changed circumstances, then two things will happen. First, the other parent will have to supply the court with current financial information. Second, the judge will review all the available facts, rule on the modification request, and issue an order which takes into consideration all of the same factors courts must consider when making initial child support orders, including;
In making the decision whether to modify, the judge will be very concerned with the obligor’s ability to pay. However, the judge must still consider all the other factors, too.
You will need to file a motion (legal paperwork) asking the court to grant your request for a modification. To that you’ll need to attach a copy of the court order you want to change, a copy of a prior and current case information statement or statements, supporting affidavits (sworn statements) and briefs (legal arguments). Plan to include enough financial documentation so that the judge understands your situation.
According to the New Jersey courts, there are several common situations where parents are able to show changed circumstances:
If you plan to retire early and seek a modification to reduce your child support obligation, you should know that the court will look at four additional factors:
“COLA” stands for “cost of living adjustment.” New Jersey law automatically raises child support awards every two years, to make sure they’re keeping pace with inflation as calculated by the Consumer Price Index. This is one easy way to achieve a modest upward modification without having to go to court. However, the obligor can contest a COLA if the obligor’s income hasn’t increased at a rate equal to the cost of inflation.
“Child Support in New Jersey,” by Susan Bishop (Nolo)
New Jersey Child Support, by the New Jersey Department of Human Services
Self-Help Resource Center, by the New Jersey Courts