Financial Hardships Do Not Excuse Child Support Obligations

Senior leaders visit Sandy response efforts in...

Senior leaders visit Sandy response efforts in NJ and NY (Photo credit: The National Guard)

In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, many lives throughout the State were put on hold. Schools were closed; work was missed; bank fees were waived; homes were destroyed; and even property tax deadlines were extended. Some obligations, however, can’t be easily put off no matter what the hardship. One of those is child support.

New Jersey law considers child support an ongoing obligation of both parents. In cases of divorce or of children born outside of marriage, the custodial parent’s share of the support is usually considered satisfied by day-to-day expenditures related to the care of the child. The non-custodial parent satisfies his or her obligations through a child support order. (1)

Child support covers many things, not just the essentials of food, clothing and shelter: medical expenses not covered by insurance (including deductibles and co-pays), child care, education (including tuition, school clothing, school lunches, textbooks, and outside tutors), entertainment and extra-curricular activities (such as sports and clubs or organizations including Boy and Girl Scouts).

There is no set age or circumstance that signals the end of child support payments under State law. Although 18 is considered the age of majority, a child does not become automatically emancipated at that time. So, if a child over the age of 18 continues to attend school on a full-time basis, the non-custodial parent could be responsible, under a child support order, to contribute to that child’s college education. Emancipation requires a court order. If the court declares a child emancipated, the non-custodial parent would still be obligated for any arrears in child support payments accumulated prior to the emancipation date. (2)

What happens, however, when hardship hits? Last month’s hurricane wasn’t the only event resulting in financial setback for many people. Even more far-reaching is the jobless rate which, in October, rose to an 18-month high. Some reports forecast that number will continue to increase this winter. An economic setback, no matter what the reason, is no excuse to ignore child support obligations.

Parents facing financial hardship, whether from unemployment or some other unforeseen event, can petition the court for a modification to their child support orders. While such a hardship would not excuse a parent’s obligation to support his or her child, it could reduce the amount of his or her contribution.

Contact the experienced family law attorneys at The Rotolo Law Firm if you have a child support issue.


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