New Jersey law requires both parents to be responsible for the support of their children. N.J.S.A. 2A:34-23(a); R. 5:6A. The amount of child support that must be paid is in the first instance guided by the New Jersey Child Support Guidelines. The Guidelines calculate child support awards based upon socio-economic research performed over the course of many decades, which estimates the average amount American families spend on children, up to earnings levels of disposable after tax income of $187,200. Obviously, the more children the greater the support award. The calculations are compiled in tables that set forth how much is owed in base child support weekly from the non-primary parent to the primary custodial parent based upon the number of children, the respective incomes of the parties and the overnight time sharing that occurs. The tables have been converted into a computer program which generates child support awards based upon that data. There are two guideline models, one for sole parenting and one for shared parenting. A shared parenting worksheet usually is used when the non-primary parent has more than the substantial equivalent of two or more overnights per week, excluding vacations and holidays. In order to qualify for the shared parenting worksheet rates you also must have separate accommodations for the children, although you do not need to have a separate bedroom for each child.
There is a rebuttable legal presumption that child support guidelines are to be used for all base child support calculations in all cases for children until they reach the age of 18, unless they are residing away at college. The burden is on the parent who objects to use of the guidelines to demonstrate that cause for deviation exists and that an injustice would occur if deviation was not allowed.
However, if the family unit has combined total disposable net income in excess of $187,200, then additional support may be appropriate, depending upon the children’s needs. This amount is not derived from a mathematical formula, but rather is based on consideration of various statutory factors that have been identified by the Legislature as relevant. Those factors include:
- Needs of the child;
- Standard of living and economic circumstances of each parent;
- All sources of income and assets of each parent;
- Earning ability of each parent, including educational background, training, employment skills, work experience, custodial responsibility for children including the cost of providing child care and the length of time and cost of each parent to obtain training or experience for appropriate employment;
- Need and capacity of the child for education, including higher education;
- Age and health of the child and each parent;
- Income, assets and earning ability of the child;
- Responsibility of the parents for the court-ordered support of others;
- Reasonable debts and liabilities of each child and parent; and
- Any other factors the court may deem relevant.
If there are high income levels, it does not automatically mean that anything desired should be ordered or paid. Parents have rights to be heard on the values pursuant to which their children should be raised. This principal established by the case of Strahan v. Strahan, involving former professional football player Michael Strahan, is metaphorically described as the “three pony rule.” No child has a right to more than three ponies no matter what their parents’ financial circumstances. Of course, that is not a per se rule, but a just metaphorical characterization used to address that concept.
In addition, the law is not offended when the primary parent obtains “incidental benefit” from an award of extra support. For example, if the home in which the primary parent resides requires renovation or repair, then that the primary parent also would benefit from such renovation.
When negotiating child support, it is important to keep in mind the new statute effective February 1, 2017, which provides that child support presumptively terminates upon a child reaching the age of 19 unless the parties’ Agreement or Court Order provides for another age terminating the obligation. Any application to extend that deadline must be filed before the child reaches the age of 19. This is best addressed in the Property Settlement Agreement or Court Order originally setting support for a child beneath the age of 18.
The evidence that may be presented on child support applications – particularly for a party who seeks to argue that the guidelines do not apply, or who advocates that above guidelines support is required — is limited only by the imagination of the lawyer/litigant presentation team. The catch all factor which is available on most family law issues — “any other factor or circumstances that the Court deems equitable, relevant and material” — allows lawyers to present all evidence that is relevant to the clients’ unique personal circumstances.