How does child support work in New Jersey?
NJ Child Support Guidelines
Principles of Child Support in New Jersey
The guiding principles of child support in New Jersey are that children should not be economic victims in a divorce; they are instead, entities who are entitled to share in their parent’s income and parents have a continuous duty to support their children until they are emancipated.
The State of New Jersey has codified these principals in New Jersey Court Rule 5:6A, as well as in Appendices IX-A to IX-H to serve as guidelines for child support.
How is child support calculated in New Jersey?
Establishing a Baseline Support Amount
Child support is based on the finances of both parents and their custody arrangements. This is not a simple calculation, but a detailed accounting resembling tax filings that requires disclosure of salaries, annuities, union dues, health-care costs, and a host of other financial data, broken down on a weekly basis.
In addition, if alimony is being paid by one parent to the other, the alimony is added to the income of the recipient and deducted from the income of the payor to arrive at the net weekly amount of income available to each parent.
There are separate worksheets for sole parenting and shared parenting arrangements. For example, a non-custodial parent who has the child or children for less than two-overnight visits per week would fall into the sole parenting category. A non-custodial parent who has the child or children for an aggregate of more than two-overnight visits per week would fall into the shared parenting category giving him or her a credit for the additional overhead expenses he or she incurs for having the children for longer periods of time. Adjusting the Baseline Support for Needs and Exceptions
From this baseline, additional expenses are calculated. These include recurring, non-reimbursed medical costs for a chronically ill child, exceptional education costs for a gifted or disabled child, and recurring health insurance costs.
- If only one parent has physical custody of the child, it is considered a sole parenting arrangement. Even if the child still has contact with the non-custodial parent, the arrangement would be considered sole parenting of the child stays with the non-custodial parent less than the substantial equivalent of two overnights per week.
- If both parents share physical custody, the parent who provides residence for school and/or has more than 50% of the parenting time will be the primary parent of residence and the other parent will be the Parent of Alternate Residence.
Properly completing the appropriate child support worksheet will provide the statutory amount of child support the non-custodial parent will pay. The courts will generally follow the guidelines, although a judge may grant exceptions for particularly unique cases such as a gifted child or a totally disabled parent. The parties, themselves, may also agree to deviate from the guidelines given other financial considerations in their overall divorce. The full rule and associated appendices run over a hundred pages. It is not advisable to attempt the process without an attorney.
New Jersey’s child support tables top out at a weekly combined parental income of $3600 dollars. That works out to a yearly gross combined income of $187,200.
Due to the lack of data on childcare costs for such families, the rules advise courts not to extrapolate from the data on lower income tiers. The courts will make a decision on the over-guidelines amount to be paid based upon proof of the child’s pre-divorce lifestyle. In these cases, it is even more important to have an attorney represent your interests in any support negotiations since no hard guidelines exist to reasonably assign support payments above $187,000 in household income.
NFL Player Michael Strahan’s infamous divorce case exposed the limitations of New Jersey’s sparse guidance for high income families. His wife’s initial Case Information Statement included lavish expenditures as needs for her young daughters, including nearly $30,000 per year in clothing, diamond jewelry, and a Jamaican vacation for their nanny. The divorce court initially granted these listed needs without scrutiny.
Thankfully for Mr. Strahan, his counsel successfully appealed the ruling and the case was remanded to family court for close scrutiny of alleged child support needs. Michael Strahan’s experience with the child support guidelines is an object lesson in the necessity of retaining a competent lawyer at all stages of the divorce process.
At what age does child support end in New Jersey?
Child support in New Jersey can automatically be terminated without a court order or judgment if a child joins the military, marries, or dies.
Absent a court order extending support past age 19, support can automatically be ended at that point provided the child is not still in high school.
Court orders entered during a divorce or subsequent motions can extend child support until a child turns 23.
In exceptional cases such as physical disability where a child may require parental support past the age of 23, the law allows the child or their parent to request child support be converted to another form of financial maintenance.
How is New Jersey Child Support Paid?
Automatic Payroll Deductions
Federal law allows states to automatically deduct child support from the wages of a non-custodial parent, generally payable through the Probation Department of the county of residence of the payor. This is the most common form of child support payment and the preferred method in the child support guidelines.
There is a common misconception that a wage garnishment can be implemented only if child support is not timely paid. This is not true. For a steadily employed parent, the payroll deduction of a wage garnishment paid through Probation is the preferred method of payment of child support.
Alternate Payment Options
There are some situations where payroll garnishment won’t work for the collection of child support. Self-employed workers, those who generate their wealth through capital gains, or employees of overseas corporations can make it difficult or impossible to collect directly from a regular paycheck, especially if they don’t actually have one. But, even self-employed workers or those with non-traditional ways of earning money can be required to pay directly to the Probation Department, even without an actual garnishment.
In other cases, a lawyer may negotiate for their client to privately pay child support in good faith to a former spouse either by mailing a check on a weekly or monthly basis or by effectuating electronic funds transfer from one bank account to the other. Sometimes people believe that it will be embarrassing for his or her employer to know of a wage garnishment but there are so many people now paying child support or alimony through wage garnishments that no one should feel ashamed about this.
How to Pay NJ Child Support Online
If the final court judgment doesn’t mandate a wage garnishment, child support can be paid through the State’s framework. New Jersey is one of the dozens of states to endorse ExpertPay as an online payment solution. This is marketed as a solution for employers to manage payroll deductions, but individuals can also set up deductions from a personal checking account.
Online payments can also be made through pay.njfspc.com
How To Pay NJ Child Support By Mail
If you are ordered to pay child support yourself instead of having wages garnished, the State of New Jersey will also accept payments by check. Checks must be made payable to NJFSPC and mailed to the New Jersey Family Support Payment Center at P.O. Box 4880, Trenton, NJ 08650-4880. If you are paying by check, be sure and remember to include your account number on your check so that it is appropriately allocated to your account.
Enforcing Child Support
The State of New Jersey won’t let parents escape child support. Federal law grants state the power to enforce support orders by nearly any legal means necessary. Once unpaid child support surpasses $2500, federal law enforcement will be notified and the Federal Office of Child Support Enforcement will take action. Penalties go far beyond wage garnishment:
- Reporting the obligation to credit agencies.
- Suspending professional licenses
- Suspending driver’s licenses
- Refusal or suspension of passports
- Asset seizure
- Tax refund withholding.
- Criminal charges, e.g. contempt of court.
Both New Jersey and the Federal Government take child support seriously. Do not make the mistake of thinking the debt will just go away. It must be paid, and the law will make sure it is.
How to Modify, Increase, Decrease, or Terminate Child Support in NJ
Parents who believe circumstances require an increase of child support or other modification of child support must file a motion with the family court.
- Change of Employment: If either parents’ income significantly changes, the court can reconsider child support in accordance with the guidelines.
- Child’s Cost of Living Changes: Exceptional circumstances may significantly change the cost of rearing a child. Illness or disability requiring long-term care are often grounds to seek higher child support payments. School-related costs may increase with age as well, and custodial parents can seek compensation for increasing educational expenses.
- A child is/should be emancipated: If a child is older than 18 and no longer attending college or other post-secondary training, a parent may no longer be obligated to provide child support. Reasons for emancipation could include enlisting in the military, getting married, or living independently.
Pick the Right Lawyer for Custody and Child Support
Child support is more than just a check in the mail. For your children, it is a way to maintain their lifestyle even after parents have gone their separate ways. Parents have a duty to provide for the well-being of their children, and child support is the state’s way of ensuring parents who have split apart don’t sidestep their duties.
Obtaining a fair and just award of child support is a difficult task requiring comprehensive knowledge of family law.