Each year, thousands of couples decide to end their marriage and go their separate ways. While divorce is never easy, matters only become more stressful and emotionally charged when child custody and child support come into the picture.
If you are filing for divorce in New Jersey, you will want to familiarize yourself with the latest New Jersey child support laws. Doing so will help you prepare for court and can assist you in making educated financial plans before finalizing the child support agreement.
Or, if you’re already divorced and are having difficulty with child support, more information now may mean better decisions later on.
To help you get started, Fabrikant Law prepared this guide for NJ child support. Keep reading to learn more about the process and get answers to some commonly asked questions.
In a rush? Call us at (732) 659-4109 to speak with a NJ child support attorney today.
- An Overview of New Jersey Child Support
- Custody and child support
- How is Child Support Calculated in New Jersey?
- Solo custody child support calculations
- Shared custody child support calculations
- Exceptions for high-income families
- How do non-custodial parents make child support payments?
- How long does child support last in New Jersey?
- Do parents need to pay for a child’s college education?
- What should you do if your ex refuses to pay child support?
- Can you change a NJ child support agreement?
- When do you need an NJ child support attorney?
An Overview of New Jersey Child Support
When parents separate, The State of New Jersey wants to ensure that children receive the proper resources to grow up in a safe and nurturing environment. Two major parts of this process are deciding custody and determining child support.
Under NJ child support laws, both parents are responsible for financially supporting their children. Just like they would if the divorce never happened. This support is necessary to pay for all costs associated with raising a child, including school, clothing, food, shelter, and medical care.
In most cases, the court will make one parent the custodial parent (who the child primarily lives with) and the other as the non-custodial parent (who the child does not primarily live with). The non-custodial parent usually pays child support to the custodial parent under this arrangement.
Unfortunately, child support often turns into a much bigger issue, and coming to a workable agreement can be hard.
In some cases, problems arise when the custodial parent asks the non-custodial parent to pay a larger than expected sum of money. In other cases, the custodial parent may seek legal action against the non-custodial parent if they pay too little support or refuse to pay anything at all.
When issues like this occur, it helps to have an experienced NJ child support attorney by your side.
Custody and child support
As stated above, the court considers custody status when determining child support. That being said, custody can have quite a few meanings. For example, three types of custody exist in New Jersey, and a child support agreement can vary depending on the child custody arrangement.
Custody has several meanings under the law. When it comes to child support, it helps to understand the difference between legal custody and physical custody.
Legal custody refers to the legal ability to exercise a degree of control over the child’s future. This includes short-term and long-term decisions.
Physical custody refers to the ability to spend time with the child unsupervised. You may sometimes hear it called “parenting time.”
Let’s explore each type of custody arrangement in New Jersey and determine which parent will need to pay child support.
Joint Legal Custody
Joint legal custody is the preferred child custody arrangement in most cases. For this reason, it is also the most common outcome during a divorce.
In this arrangement, each parent maintains legal decision-making power over their children’s welfare, medical, and educational decisions. This arrangement also means both parents can maintain an active and fulfilling relationship with their children.
In a standard case, the child (or children) lives with one parent most days of the week. Since the child is under that parent’s custody most of the time, that parent is labeled the custodial parent. This will be the child’s primary residence for government documents, mail, and other matters.
The other parent keeps custody rights, but the child does not primarily live with them. Thus, they are labeled the non-custodial parent. And even though the child may not live there primarily, this parent’s home can serve as an alternate address for the child.
Although this agreement is labeled Joint Legal Custody, the custodial parent is responsible for the child’s day-to-day decisions. They decide what clothes the child wears, prepare their meals, and make daily decisions that are in the best interest of the child.
For this reason, the non-custodial parent will probably need to pay child support to the custodial parent.
The rationale here is simple. If a child(ren) primarily lives in one parent’s home, they will need food, clothing, medical care, school supplies, etc. Most of those things will be purchased directly by the custodial parent, leading to an imbalance of spending. Child support exists to restore that balance.
That said, in this arrangement both parents still have an equal say when making large decisions. For example, both parents should discuss issues like education, religion, and health care.
Sole Legal and Physical Custody
This arrangement is rather rare since it prevents the child from having a relationship with the non-custodial parent. Except in cases of extreme abuse or danger to the children, NJ courts recognize that removing a parent from the situation isn’t generally in the children’s best interests. Regardless of what each parent may say or think about the other.
Under sole legal and physical custody arrangements, the custodial parent maintains full control over the child at all times and has sole decision-making power. The child lives with that parent, and that parent fully controls every decision for that child.
This arrangement is generally the most preferred arrangement for parents since it allows children to spend equal amounts of time living with each parent. This differs from joint legal custody, where the child primarily lives with one parent.
Despite not having any child custody, the non-custodial parent will probably need to pay child support to the custodial parent.
Shared Legal and Physical Custody
Typically, parents create arrangements to allow their children to spend time at one another’s home. There is no set standard for this form of custody.
In some cases, children spend several weeks with one parent at a time. In others, the child might go between homes several times per week.
Likewise, both parents must make decisions jointly since they both have legal custody. From clothing and food to school and vacations, the parents will share the cost of raising their child. However, NJ child support courts may still require the parent with a higher income level to pay child support to the parent with lower earnings.
How is Child Support Calculated in New Jersey?
As stated earlier, NJ child support courts want to replicate the child’s standard of living had the parents not separated. Using a series of assumptions and analytical models, New Jersey created the New Jersey Rules of Court Appendix IX-A, Considerations in the Use of Child Support Guidelines to explain how courts are to calculate child support payments.
These guidelines operate on the following premises:
- Child support is a continuous duty of both parents
- Children are entitled to share in the current income of both parents
- Children should not be the economic victims of divorce or out-of-wedlock birth
In addition to these guidelines, New Jersey also uses several worksheets to calculate specific payment amounts. These worksheets take several factors into account, including but not limited to:
- Each parent’s income, employment status, and age
- The number of children in your family
- How many overnight visits a child has with each parent
- Existing standard of living and expected childcare expenses
- Whether your child is currently employed and has a steady income
Fabrikant Law understands that each NJ child support case is unique. We will take your circumstances into account to advocate for a child support level that provides sufficient care for your child.
While we cannot state the exact amount you will owe, we’ll use hypothetical cases to demonstrate how courts determine support.
Solo custody child support calculations
In cases where the child lives with only the custodial parent, the NJ child support court will use Appendix IX-C, Sole Parenting Worksheet to calculate each parent’s net weekly income. Using these numbers, the court will determine the weekly payment amount using Appendix IX-F, Schedule of Child Support Awards.
For a hypothetical example, if two parents have one child and jointly earn $1,000 per week, then the non-custodial parent must pay $233 in child support each week. If these parents had two children, the non-custodial parent would pay $257 per week.
While other factors affect the amount owed, you can use Appendix IX-F to see ballpark estimates given your expected joint income level. However, we highly recommend speaking with a NJ child support attorney to find a more precise estimate.
Shared custody child support calculations
Courts often use Appendix IX-D, Shared Parenting Worksheet when a child spends at least 28 percent and less than 50 percent with the non-custodial parent. This form helps the judge determine each parent’s income and expenses to calculate a suitable support level.
Under a shared parenting agreement, the court must use more nuance to calculate the weekly amount owed. Since factors can vary in each case, it is difficult to provide a general estimate of how much a parent might owe.
Exceptions for high-income families
According to N.J.S.A. 2A:34-23, New Jersey defines high-income families as those that make over $187,200 annually. Generally, individuals with high incomes have unique expenses and a higher level of spending.
To adjust for these additional costs, NJ child support courts will use Appendix IX-A to determine the base child support level. Next, they will look at financial disclosures and other documents to calculate any supplemental income needed to ensure the child maintains the same living standards.
For example, the court may request supplemental support to pay for:
- Private schooling
- Daycare and summer camps
- Sports and hobbies
How do non-custodial parents make child support payments?
In nearly all cases, New Jersey automatically deducts child support payments from the non-custodial parent’s income. In this case, income can include employment wages, unemployment benefits, Social Security and disability payments, or any other form of incoming funds.
New Jersey sometimes permits non-custodial parents to forego automatic withholding. Under these circumstances, a court order will instruct the parent how much and how often to pay. Parents can pay via cash, check or money order, or several online options.
Regardless of how non-custodial parents pay, the New Jersey Family Support Payment Center collects these payments and coordinates distribution to the custodial parent. The New Jersey Child Support Program only allows custodial parents to receive support via direct deposit or the New Jersey Debit MasterCard®.
How long does child support last in New Jersey?
New Jersey seeks to ensure that children receive the proper support needed until they are independent.
Typically, both parents must share in the care of their child until the child reaches the age of 18 or graduates high school. However, there are several cases in which child support can end earlier or extend past the age of 18.
A few reasons child support may end early:
- The child enlists in the military
- The child becomes financially independent
- The child marries
- The child passes away
A few reasons child support may extend past 19:
- The child is still in high school
- The child enrolls in college and needs support
- The child has a disability or medical condition
Attorney Note: In 2016, lawmakers made significant changes to New Jersey Child Support laws. Read about those changes here.
Do parents need to pay for a child’s college education?
As we stated above, parents must take care of their children until they are emancipated. Sometimes, children are still financially dependent on their parents despite attending college or other similar programs. In cases like this, NJ child support courts may require parents to pay for the child’s basic needs.
However, there is no singular rule that states parents must pay for a college education, in all cases. Instead, the court will need to review each parent’s income, involvement in college planning, and other factors to determine if the non-custodial parent owes additional support.
What should you do if your ex refuses to pay child support?
In some cases, parents try to pay less child support than necessary. For example, they may hide income or voluntarily become underemployed to demonstrate a lower level of income.
When this happens, the custodial parent can notify the NJ family courts. If the court determines that a parent is purposefully earning less than they could, the court may impute their income. When this happens, the non-paying parent will need to pay child support based on how much they could earn.
For example, if a non-custodial parent holds an advanced degree and has a demonstrated work history as a professor, the court would calculate payments based on this income level. If this parent takes a minimum wage job stocking shelves to reduce their support payments, the court may impute their income.
Since the parent could be earning much more but chose to stock shelves to pay less in child support, the court may still take their potential earnings into account. In this case, the non-custodial parent will pay child support based on their would-be earnings as a professor.
Sometimes, underemployment is not the fault of the parent. If we look back on the Great Recession, many high-qualified people struggled to find work.
The court does not want to penalize parents in the situation, so they look at various factors before imputing income.
These factors can include:
- Employment history
- The current job market
Child Support Attorney Note: If your ex-spouse is refusing to pay child support, or is paying less than is stated in your agreement, court action is required to compel payment. This process may appear easy but can easily spiral into a complex issue. Ensure your rights are protected by a family law attorney experienced in NJ child support cases.
Can you change a NJ child support agreement?
The State of New Jersey allows parents to modify child support agreements. Of course, this is not a simple request. Parents need to demonstrate a change in circumstances that warrant the modification.
For example, a non-custodial parent may request a modification if they cannot afford payments due to job loss, disability, or other factors.
Similarly, a custodial parent can request a modification if the existing payments do not cover child care expenses sufficiently.
When do you need an NJ child support attorney?
Whether you are divorced, in the middle of the process, or foresee divorce in the future, it always helps to have a trusted advisor by your side. A knowledgeable NJ child support attorney can assist you in everything from planning your initial support agreement to modifying an existing agreement.