Understanding Child Support – Part 1

How Child Support Works In New Jersey

What is the purpose of “calculating support? Why do guidelines matter? What’s a schedule?

The term “child support,” often provokes anxiety and cringes from anyone who has had to deal with paying it or receiving it. Whether parents are in the process of getting a divorce or parents have been divorced for a decade, there are numerous issues with calculating, assigning, enforcing and collecting child support. You and your attorney will inevitably have your hands full in terms of gathering information about income and ensuring that child support is properly calculated. While many attorneys advise their clients about the meaning of child support, it is a lot of information for anyone to understand or internalize, especially when all the information is thrown at you at once. This three-part series entitled “Let’s Talk About Child Support,” is comprised of: The Basics of Child Support; What’s Included in Child Support and Unreimbursed Medical Expenses.

While this overview is geared towards helping clients understand general principles of child support (and is not to be considered legal advice), it may also serve as a quick refresher course for those attorneys who seem to have lost sight of the philosophy of child support and the real meaning behind child support terminology.

What is Child Support?

Philosophy: As much as the “philosophy of child support,” may seem to be intuitive or common knowledge, it isn’t, especially when you have parties that are in an acrimonious situation. More often than not, people are so blinded by their emotions and animosity, they are incapable of acknowledging the basic philosophy of child support.

Pursuant to §1 of Appendix-IX-A, “The premise of these guidelines is that (1) child support is a continuous duty of both parents, (2) children are entitled to share in the current income of both parents, and (3) children should not be the economic victims of divorce or out-of-wedlock birth.”

To translate, no matter who you are, no matter what you do and no matter how the other parent wronged you, you have an obligation to support your child. Your former-significant-other may make triple the income you do. Your former-significant-other may have cheated, may have lied, may have stolen, but no matter what, you, as a parent, also have an obligation to support your child. Yes, your contribution may be minimal, but it is important to be aware that as a parent you will always have an obligation to support your child until a Court Order or an Agreement states that your obligation has ended. This is why the Appendix explains that child support is a “continuous duty,” of “both parents” and that a child is entitled to income from “both parents.” Somehow, this mutual obligation to support children is sometimes forgotten by parents.

The New Jersey Child Support Guidelines

New Jersey utilizes “Child Support Guidelines” when calculating support. The New Jersey Child Support Guidelines, which are based on an income share formula, ensure that both parents share the financial responsibilities of raising a child.  If you have heard the term “run guidelines,” it is because these “guidelines” are now in the form of software that is used by attorneys, judges, Child Support Hearing Officers, Probation Child Support Enforcement Unit (PCSE) and County Welfare Agencies to calculate support. The Child Support Guidelines program is self-driven, using the case information collected by all agencies.

“Running guidelines,” is not simply plugging numbers into a computer. The guidelines are extremely complex as they have to account for any and every type of financial circumstance between two parties.

The guidelines are based on years of data that has been compiled by economists, both nationally and locally, in an attempt to simulate the percentage of parental net income that is spent on children of “intact”[1] families. The reason so much data had to be compiled is that most goods and services are utilized by both the children and the parents, which makes it difficult to ascertain how much is being spent on the children. As a result, economists use an indirect approach to determine child-rearing costs known as the “marginal cost estimation method,” which computes the added cost of a child or children to an intact family.

All of that data has been inserted into “schedules,” (i.e. charts) that are found in Appendix IX-F. Those schedules are what provide the basis for the New Jersey Child Support Guidelines. The Appendix IX-F (§8) awards are based on the percentage of income spent on children by a large number of families in a variety of socioeconomic situations. The use of averages reflects the diversity of spending by parents.

To simplify this, “schedules” refers to the charts of average spending on child-rearing. “Running guidelines,” means inserting information provided by you and your former-significant-other into a program based on those schedules to calculate appropriate support.

Deviation: A vital “note” contained in this portion of the Appendix states “Note: The fact that a family does not incur a specific expense in a consumption category is not a basis for a deviation from the child support guidelines.” This note alone is good to bear in mind when considering someone’s child support obligation. Some people have tried to lower a child support obligation due to the fact that he/she or their children do not incur every single expense listed in the appendix; those who have tried have been largely unsuccessful.

[1] “Intact” is the word used by the Appendix, not by this attorney.

Child Support During a Divorce vs After a Divorce

The filing of a Complaint for Divorce initiates the process of a divorce, but that Complaint is only the first step in the divorce process. Although the judiciary has an ongoing duty to have divorces finalized as quickly as possible, even the simplest divorce could take up to six (6) months before it is finalized and resolved. While a divorce is pending (i.e. a complaint has already been filed), taxes still need to be paid, mortgages need to be paid down, braces need to be put on, soccer cleats need to be purchased, etc. Therefore, there needs to be a mechanism in place to make sure that the parties’ financial obligations are met while a divorce is pending. This is sometimes provided for through an agreement between the parties, or after motion practice through a Court Order. The pendente lite support motion is often indispensable in matrimonial actions as heavy caseloads frequently mean there is a substantial delay between the time of filing the complaint and the final hearing. Rose v. Csapo, 818 A.2d 340, 342 (2002).

The payments that are made during a divorce litigation are paid on an interim basis and are known as “pendente lite support,” which in Latin literally means “awaiting the litigation.” The general purpose of pendente lite support is to maintain the parties in the same or similar situation they were in prior to the inception of the litigation: “to preserve the status quo through the device of awarding temporary financial support pending a full investigation of the case.”

Therefore, even though housing is one of the categories included in child support, based on the parties’ respective financial circumstances during a pending divorce, one party may be obligated to make payments toward the mortgage while also making payments toward child support. While a party may be obligated to make payments that seem duplicative, the amount of support paid on pendente lite basis will be reviewed by the Court when a divorce is being resolved. This means that if someone is paying a great deal in expenses while a divorce is pending, that person will also get credit for those payments.

This review of the basics of child support is meant to assist clients in understanding child support. Please contact our New Jersey family attorneys for a more detailed explanation or to answer any questions you have.