When a couple with children divorces in New Jersey, child support payments are determined with the help of guidelines established by court rule. (1) Because our lives are not stagnant, circumstances can arise that turn what was once considered a fair payment into a hardship. Usually these circumstances involve a significant change in income of one or both parents. However, even a child going off to college can trigger the need to petition the court for adjustment of support payments. If, after reading the following, you need the assistance of a Hunterdon County lawyer regarding child support, the family law attorneys at The Rotolo Law Firm in Lebanon can help.
New Jersey’s guidelines for determining child support take into consideration a number of factors, first of which is the net income of both parents. Wages, tips, overtime, unemployment benefits and even lottery winnings are all considered part of income; welfare or disability payments, however, are not. Taxes and mandatory deductions are deducted from the income total (although voluntary deductions, such as retirement or savings plans, are added back in) in order to arrive at net income. The combined “net” income of both parents determines the family income. The family income divided by the number of children determines the basic child support award. This award can be divided between the parents depending on the contribution of each to the family’s total income. (2)
The guidelines are intended to make sure there is enough money available to the custodial parent to care for the child. They are not intended to make either parent poor. If either parent experiences a significant change in income, a petition to the court to adjust the child support payments can be warranted. In these cases, the courts can return to the guidelines to reconfigure a fair support order. There are other circumstances, however, where the State Appellate Division recently advised courts to ignore the guidelines — specifically when it involves a child’s enrollment in college. (3)
This advice stems from the case of a divorced father of two who, when his oldest child began college, petitioned the court for a reduction in his child support payments. The court approved the request but, at the same time, ordered the father to pay a specified amount toward the child’s education costs. When the man’s younger child began college, he again petitioned for a reduction in child support payments. At this time he also informed the court he had suffered a significant reduction of income. This time the judge denied the petition on the basis of the child entering college but did approve a reduction due to the change in income. The father appealed. (3)
Assuming the child will be living on campus, the Appellate Division noted that enrollment in college presents a whole new set of circumstances, some of which are not covered by the guidelines. Transportation costs, school supplies, dorm-room or apartment furnishings, clothing, spending money, and more, can all be considered part of college expenses. Rather than turning to the guidelines, the Appellate Division advises, judges should consider each child’s individual needs when deciding whether or not to adjust a support order due to college enrollment. (3)
Although guidelines exist to help courts reach a fair decision on support and alimony payments, the final orders are largely at the discretion of the judge. If you or someone you know is going through a divorce in Hunterdon County that involves child support or other support payments, contact the family law attorneys at The Rotolo Law Firm located in Lebanon, NJ for legal guidance.