Understanding Child Support – Part 2

What’s Included In Child Support?

One issue that seems to come up constantly is what is included in child support. However, what is included in child support really should not be an issue because an Appendix to the New Jersey Rules of Court, specifically Appendix IX-A, delineates exactly what is and what is not included in child support.

Clients look to their attorneys for guidance on what is included in child support, but when clients meet with their attorneys, the conversation usually focuses on the more urgent and immediate matters like negotiating parenting time or holiday vacation. Attorneys do not spend their workday memorizing the Appendices of the Rules of Court, even if it would be wise to do so. But as a result, unnecessary and frivolous motions for additional support are submitted to Court without proper justification or basis, which means that clients incur additional fees and do not get a satisfactory outcome, which is not ideal for anyone.

This quick guide on what is included in child support is all taken directly from Appendix IX-A, (§8) and is meant to assist individuals who pay or collect child support, as well as the attorneys who sometimes grapple with what is included versus what they personally believe should be included. (Discussion of unreimbursed medical expenses and payment of children’s medical insurance is not included in this article, but see “Let’s Talk About Child Support- Part III: Unreimbursed Medical Expenses included in Child Support.”

Child Support Schedules

The awards in the Appendix IX-F child support schedules represent the average amount that intact families spend on their children (i.e., the marginal amount spent on the children). A family that has a combined gross income over $500,000.00 is going to have more regular expenses than a family that has a combined gross income under $100,000.00. Therefore, the average expenses and average amount of spending on child-rearing reflects a variety of socioeconomic situations.

As the child support schedules are based on an average of a variety of socioeconomic situations, one must remember that the child support obligation is calculated in accordance with the standard of living of the child and the parents. See N.J.S.A. 2A:34-23 (a). However, while the child support guidelines attempt to approximate the same level of spending on children before divorce or separation, one must remember that the resulting child support awards do not guarantee that the children’s standard of living will remain the same if parents’ divorce or separate (Appendix IX-A ¶7 §B).

Please keep in mind that although some expenses are included on this list, a party may be obligated to make an additional or separate payment towards one of these expenses while the divorce is pending, or on a pendente lite basis (See Let’s Talk About Child Support Part I: Basics of Child Support.)

Expenses Included In Child Support

Child Support is comprised of three types of expenses:  Fixed costs (38%); Variable costs (37%); and Controlled costs (25%). The descriptions below are the standard expenses included in child support. Therefore, if there is an agreement and/or a Court Order, which dictates that one of the listed items needs to be paid in addition to child support, then that Court Order or agreement will take precedence over what is stated below.

Deviation: To qualify for a deviation based on average costs, a parent must show that the family’s marginal spending on children for all items related to a consumption category differs from the average family (e.g., there are no housing costs).

Fixed Costs (38%)

These are expenses that a custodial parent incurs even when the child or children are not with the custodial parent (i.e. housing and shelter expenses).

Housing and shelter expenses This category includes every expense associated with shelter costs. For those living in homes, it would include mortgage payments, home equity loans, homeowner’s insurance, property taxes, and maintenance. For those living in apartments, it would include rent, security fees, parking fees, and property management fees. Shelter expenses would also include the utilities, public services, furniture, household equipment, appliances, and domestic services.

For the parties who have more disposable income, if the standard of living includes vacation homes or timeshares, those shelter expenses are also included in shelter expenses. Once again, this is based on the family’s standard of living, which means just because your family does not have a rental home, does not mean that you would be entitled to a reduction of child support.

Variable Costs (37%)

These costs follow the child regardless of whether he or she is with the custodial parent or the noncustodial parent and include entertainment, food and transportation expenses.

Entertainment

Entertainment expenses cover a wide variety of activities such as television, cell phones, photographic equipment, movie rental (i.e. Netflix) and film processing. It also includes expenses associated with social events (ticket admission costs) and hobbies. Therefore, membership fees and dues to clubs and/or sports associations are included. As for hobbies, all recreational, exercise and sports equipment, as well as costs for lessons or instructions are also included. However, this is for standard and regular activities, which means if you have a child who has an extraordinary amount of extracurricular expenses, then it may not be included as other rules would apply. See article by Francesca O’Cathain, Esq. on this topic: https://lmllawyers.com/kids-activities-and-divorce/

Food

All food and non-alcoholic beverages purchased for home consumption or purchased away from home (including vending machines, restaurants, tips, school meals and catered affairs).

Transportation

Transportation expenses include all costs associated with owning, leasing and maintaining a vehicle, such as monthly payments (regardless if you own or lease), finance charges, automobile insurance, maintenance and repair costs. This also includes other expenses associated with commuting and travel costs, such as E-Z Pass, MetroCards, license and registration costs, and AAA (or other automobile service clubs).

Controlled Costs* (25%)

These are the costs that are traditionally controlled by the custodial parent such as clothing and personal care.  Non-food items (e.g., tissue papers, alcoholic beverages, cigarettes) are not included.

Clothing

All children’s clothing (including school uniforms), footwear (except special footwear for sports), diapers, repairs or alterations to clothing and footwear, storage, dry cleaning, laundry, watches, and jewelry.

Personal care products and services

(e.g., hair, shaving, cosmetics), books and magazines, school supplies, cash contributions, personal insurance, and finance charges (except those for mortgage and vehicle purchases).

*The initial $250.00 of unreimbursed medical expenses per child per year is the responsibility of the parent receiving child support. Therefore, the initial $250.00 of unreimbursed medical expenses would be considered “controlled costs,” but any money spent over the initial $250.00 per child per year would be considered a “variable cost” as it would follow the child regardless of which parent he or she is with. “Let’s Talk About Child Support- Part III: Unreimbursed Medical Expenses included in Child Support.”

“Customary and Average Spending”

As previously explained, the above list of expenses reflects the average spending of “typical intact families.” Therefore, if there are large child-related expenses that are not customarily incurred by a majority of “intact families,” then those expenses would not be included in the basic child support awards listed in Appendix IX-F. Therefore, the expenses that are not customarily incurred by most families can be added to the basic child support obligation.

Supplemental Child Support: Child-Care Expenses

The average cost of child-care (including day camp in lieu of childcare) is not factored into in the child support awards outlined in Appendix IX-F. Therefore, the net cost (after tax credits) of work-related child-care “should be added” to the basic obligation if incurred pursuant to Appendix IX-A (§9). Payment of this expense is also inserted into the child support guidelines in order to ensure that the paying parent receives a “credit” for incurring this expense.

Tuition

Tuition for children for private or parochial school is not included in child support. If two parents have customarily sent their child to a private or parochial school, the child’s attendance at that school would be considered “the standard of living.” This means that a Court may make tuition expenses a supplemental expense to be added to the child support. However, this could be a cost that is split between the parties based on their respective income. This would most likely be decided on a case-by-case basis and should be discussed with an attorney.

Court-Approved Expenses

Other Expenses that “should be added” to the basic child support obligation are predictable and recurring expenses for children that may not be incurred by average or intact families, such as private elementary or secondary education, special needs of gifted or disabled children, and transportation costs associated with parenting time.  Usually, the addition of these expenses to the basic obligation must be approved by the court. However, if two parties acknowledge that they have an extraordinary expense which is predictable and recurring, those parties would benefit from coming to an agreement about this expense instead of spending money unnecessarily to litigate the issue in Court.

Additionally, any special expenses that are not predictable and recurring should be shared by the parents in proportion to their relative incomes (i.e. the relative income percentage set forth in the child support guidelines).

Health Insurance for the Child and Unreimbursed Medical Expenses in excess of $250.00 are not included in basic child support but are included in child support calculations to give paying parent a credit. See “Let’s Talk About Child Support- Part III: Unreimbursed Medical Expenses included in Child Support.”

Hopefully, this summary of what is included in child support guidelines assists parties in navigating collection or payment of child support. If anything remains unclear, please consult our New Jersey family law attorneys or the Appendices of the Rules of Court.