Child support used to be a straightforward matter dependent primarily upon the incomes of the parties. No longer; uncertain economic times put into question what the incomes of the parties are or will continue to be over the course of a divorce. Continued employment may not be secure; prior salaries with existing employers may be significantly diminished; similar employment with new employers may pay less. If only one spouse previously worked, should the other now look for employment and what is his or her earning potential?
These and other questions must be considered, with the assistance of an attorney, in deriving an accurate child support amount. Other considerations also are relevant. Who pays for child care? Who pays for health care? What are the agreed-upon parenting arrangements? When do circumstances require a change in the amount of support? Will you be required to pay college expenses? When will your children be emancipated and your obligation for support and/or college terminated?
Basic Child Support
Basic child support is the amount to be paid based on child support guidelines approved by the New Jersey Supreme Court. Basic child support can include items such as health care premiums and work-related child care; these items also may be adjusted by the parties outside the guidelines. Currently, the guidelines apply to couples making a combined net amount, after taxes and certain other withholdings, of $187,200. Couples with incomes above that must run a separate budget for child support costs, which can be a complicated process. For example, what portion of a home mortgage is to be allocated to one or more children? You can see the complexities.
Supplemental Child Support
Will you be required to pay support in addition to basic support? Such items included in and excluded from basic child support are ill-defined in the guidelines. Items such as summer camp, expensive lessons, tutoring and accommodations for special-needs children typically must be negotiated. Allocation of these expenses between the parties is inevitably an issue, both during the divorce process and afterward. Invariably, one party will perceive that he or she is paying too much for these sorts of costs for the children. Such disagreements persist until the children are emancipated and the obligation for child support terminated.
Do you have to pay for your child's college? This is a very controversial issue. New Jersey is one of a handful of states that require, in appropriate cases, that parents pay the cost of their children's college and other postsecondary educational programs, such as vocational schools. Further, payment for college is in addition to payment of child support. In other words, child support will continue, even if at a decreased level, while you pay for college.
New Jersey has established a 14-part analysis to determine whether parents have such an obligation. This sort of analysis gives great latitude to the trial courts to require parents to pay for college. If parents have the financial ability to pay for college, the courts may well require it, even if the parents have to take loans to do so. The court also may require the child to apply for scholarships, grants and available loans, such as Stafford and Perkins loans.
Emancipation/Termination of Child Support
When does your obligation to pay child support and college expenses end? By law, children in New Jersey are presumed emancipated when they reach 18. In reality, emancipation occurs when the child is economically independent from his or her parents. However, the presumption rarely holds when the court imposes an obligation to pay for college. Of course, the courts do not allow a child to be supported forever.
The obligation to pay college costs ends when the child's course of study ends, be it a two-year or four-year program. On occasion, the courts require payment toward graduate school such as law school or medical school. Usually, the obligation to pay child support will end with the obligation to pay college expenses. However, this is not a universal rule, particularly in difficult economic times. An associate's or bachelor's degree is no longer a guarantee of meaningful employment. Again, the question is whether the child can or should be self-supporting.
Alienation of a child's affections from a parent may terminate the obligation to pay both child support and college expenses. Alienation has become a very controversial issue in New Jersey. What is the source of a failed relationship between a parent and child? Does the breakdown result from the parent's conduct, the child's conduct or the conduct of the other parent, who may be "badmouthing" the alienated parent? Alienation is a sensitive issue that must be explored whenever there is a rupture in the relationship between parent and child.
Contact Me Today
Call me at 908-336-0268 or send me an e-mail to schedule a meeting with an experienced child support lawyer in Somerville, New Jersey. I look forward to hearing from you. Your initial consultation is an important step in securing and protecting your legal rights.