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New Jersey Child Support and Child Care
The following is a brief overview of child support. This overview will explain why child support exists, who is able to receive child support, how the courts determine the amount of support to be awarded, and where child support comes from. This includes the consequences if the parent/obligor (the one who is required to make child support payments) fails to make payments.
Why Is Child Support Necessary?
Child support reflects the continuous duty of both parents to financially support their children. The government wants the parents to support the child. If there were no child support laws, then many children would live in poverty. Moreover, this would increase the welfare rolls dramatically.
Who Receives Child Support?
Any children who are less than 18 years of age may receive child support. In instances where a child is over the age of 18 but he or she still attends high school or another form of secondary education, then the court must consider current case law and statutory law in determining whether that child is permitted to receive support.
How Is Child Support Collected?
Children are entitled to be financially supported in accordance with the economic status of each parent. The child support guidelines in New Jersey were established after reviewing socioeconomic studies. The Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) has developed guidelines to assist the courts in determining a fair and adequate award of child support. The guidelines are based upon estimates of what intact families spend on their children, and they reflect that parents in different income categories spend a different percentage of their combined incomes toward raising their children. For example, two parents who earn $50,000 together statistically spend a lesser amount on their children than do two parents who earn $150,000.
The child support guidelines are set forth in the New Jersey Court Rules. The guidelines address children whose parents' joint net annual income is below $150,800. The guidelines also take into consideration the possibility of a parent's underemployment or unemployment. Many times, many parents work "off the books," or they are just lazy and don't want to work because this will increase their child support. The courts have solved this problem by imputing income to a parent. Many times, parents who work construction, the trades, or who are self- employed, make most of their salary or income "off the books." Therefore, many judges will impute income to a conniving parent. The court will analyze the New Jersey Occupation Wage Survey, printed by the New Jersey Department of Labor, and assess a reasonable income to the deceptive parent.
It is the rebuttable presumption that the amounts set forth in the guidelines are correct. This means that unless a party convinces the court that circumstances warrant a deviation of the guidelines-based support amount, a court will not depart from the guideline amount. The child support guideline amounts already factor in various expenses for the child/children including the following: child's share of expenses for housing, food, clothing, transportation, entertainment, unreimbursed health care and miscellaneous items, such as personal care products and cash contributions. Expenses that are not included in the guideline amounts are: child care, health insurance, private school and unreimbursed health care costs. However, the court may, in addition to basic child support, add additional obligations upon the parties to pay for these expenses. Each case is decided on an individual basis. If the parents' joint net income picture exceeds $150,800, the child support award is calculated up to that amount, considering that as the minimum child support award, and then evaluating certain additional factors specified in N.J.S.A. 2A:34-23a to supplement the child support amount. Those factors include:
For any New Jersey divorce, child support motion, or a FD case (where the parties are not married), then the parties must complete a child support guideline worksheet. The New Jersey Court Rules contains two worksheets for this purpose. One worksheet is called the "sole parenting" worksheet. Here the non-custodial parent must spend less than 28% of overnight time with the child.
The other type of child support worksheet is called a "shared parenting" worksheet. In a "shared parenting" worksheet case, the non-custodial parent must have 29% or more overnight time with the child, and the parent must prove that separate living accommodations for the child are provided. In a shared-parenting situation, the court considers three broad categories of expenses (fixed, variable and controlled) and apportions those expenses to each parent in proportion to the parents' relative incomes, not in proportion to the time spent with the children.
Each of these worksheets provides the court with information on the parents' overnight parenting schedule, income, alimony obligation, other child support obligations, child care costs, and health insurance costs for the child. This information is vital in determining the amount of child support a court shall award. Like alimony awards, child support may be awarded pendente lite, that is, temporarily, while the litigation is pending and until a final determination of the child support award is made by the court or by agreement.
Where Is Child Support Paid?
Payment(s) of child support and alimony are paid through the Probation Division in the County of the obligor's residence upon. If the parties agree then there can be a "direct pay" between them. However, this is not advisable. In most cases, child support and alimony is garnished. In some other cases, the payor spouse simply sends their child support payment on a weekly or biweekly basis to their local Probation Division.
Child support arrears are a major problem in New Jersey. The possible ramifications of not paying child support are being arrested, having your bank account(s) seized, serving time in the local county jail, having child support liens placed on your home, obtaining bad credit, having your credit report ruined, having your driver's license suspended, and also having any and all professional licenses suspended or revoked.
If the divorce is being filed under one of the seven fault grounds (including extreme cruelty, adultery, abandonment, substance or alcohol addiction, institutionalization, deviant sexual conduct and incarceration), the 18 month separation period, required for a no-fault divorce, is waived. However, each ground for divorce has its own stipulations.
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