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New Jersey Child Support Overview
Children are the innocent victims of divorce. They become the center of battles over child custody, support, and visitation and face losing the only lifestyle that they've ever known, often winding up being penalized both emotionally and financially. And while good parenting and a parenting plan can help ease the emotional burden and can't necessarily be set forth in any guideline, in order to ease the financial impact, the State of New Jersey has created a series of Child Support Guidelines which were developed to "provide the court with economic information to assist in the establishment and modification of fair and adequate child support awards."
For couples engaging in divorce mediation, Child Support award calculations are performed and the subject matter discussed along with the other three major mediation subject areas of (1) Equitable Distribution, (2) Spousal Support (Alimony) and (3) Parenting Plans. The divorce mediator will use a special software program as well as information received during the course of mediation in order to help the couple determine what the guidelines say is an appropriate child support award.
What specifically the New Jersey Child Support Guidelines are comprised of and how the guidelines are calculated is a fair, albeit complicated, question and would be the subject of a much longer article than we will present here today. For those individuals who are interested in reviewing the specific state statutes surrounding child support, please refer to the New Jersey Child Support Guidelines for more detailed information.
As every family's circumstances are unique, it is always best to consult with a mediator who can help you and your spouse understand the child support guidelines in detail and determine what an appropriate amount of child support would be within the scope of your child custody arrangement. With that in mind, please note this document is intended to give a general overview of the subject matter and not to provide any specific legal advice.
The Guiding Principles Behind Child Support
There are three main principles behind the New Jersey Child Support Guidelines.
What's Included in Child Support and How Were the Child Support Guidelines Formulated?
For the purpose of this article, simply put the New Jersey Child Support Guidelines attempt to calculate what the average family spends to raise a child from zero until age 17 years factoring in for the child's share of expenses for housing, food, clothing, transportation, entertainment, un-reimbursed health care up to and including $250 per child per year, and other miscellaneous items. And while there is no absolute "cost" of raising children, it is inferred from a variety of factors that were considered when calculating the award amounts.
First is the amount that parents' spend on their children. The assumption being that as family income rises, spending on children increases since parents uses some of their additional income to improve the children's standard of living and provide them with comforts and luxuries not often found in households of lower economic status.
Next is that total spending on children increases with family size but larger households have lower per-person costs due to the sharing of household goods. Think of this as the "Costco or Sam's Club example" whereby a family with four children will buy items in larger quantities and enjoy a lower per-person, per-item cost than perhaps someone who buys for a single child. As the number of children rises, the cost of each child does not increase proportionately. Expenditures on two children are less than twice as much as spending on one child; three children cost less than three times as much as one child, etc.
Finally, because of the way awards are calculated, (as a percentage of family income rather than an absolute dollar amount) the New Jersey Child Support Guidelines formula avoids the problems associated with the difference in the cost-of living between states and takes into account the costs associated with raising a child here in New Jersey.
Child Support and Maintaining the Standard of Living
Although the Child Support Guidelines attempt to approximate the same level of spending on children before divorce or separation, the resulting child support awards do not guarantee that the children's standard of living will remain the same. Usually, the children's standard of living will decline since the child support award is being added to a much smaller level of base household expenditures. Less total money is available in the primary household of the child after divorce or separation since the other parent's income is no longer available. Less money means a decline in household expenditures which results in a lower standard of living. Additionally, some economies of scale are lost when one parent leaves the household.
It is important to note that the Child Support Guidelines award amounts represent the average cost of raising a child from age zero through 17 years. Studies have shown that expenditures are higher than the average for teen-aged children and lower than the average for preteen children and therefore child support payment amounts calculated may need to be adjusted from what the child support guidelines suggest. In addition there may be other items that are not included in the basic child support award amount that divorcing couples may wish to consider adding in. These items may include child care expenses, health insurance premiums for the child, private school tuition, etc. A professional mediator can help couples determine what an appropriate amount of child support for their particular situation is.
And while the New Jersey Child Support Guidelines are intended to apply to children who are less than 18 years of age, those children that are more than 18 years of age but still in high school or a similar secondary educational institution may qualify for child support. The child support guidelines may be applied (in the court's discretion) to support for students over 18 years of age who commute to college to cover the expenses associated with them living at home. However arrangements for funding tuition expenses should be made under separate agreement.
The bottom line is that while a couple may no longer be husband and wife, they will always be parents to their children and support for those children, in this case financial, is of the utmost importance. The New Jersey Child Support Guidelines attempt to ensure that children should not be the economic victims of divorce and help parents by providing a starting place to work from to ensure the comfort and stability of their children's financial future in a manner that is fair and equitable for everyone involved - no matter what the custody arrangement.
New Jersey is an equitable distribution state, meaning that the division of property in a divorce is to be done fairly, not necessarily equally. The court can take into consideration any factor it deems relevant when dividing property, but it must consider certain factors, such as how long the couple was married and the age and health of both spouses, the income or property brought to the marriage by each spouse, the standard of living that was achieved during the marriage, and the extent to which one spouse may have deferred career goals, among others.
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