When a child's parents separate or divorce, the New Jersey family courts expect both parents to financially support their child. The state recognizes that the child's primary residential parent will typically be responsible for taking care of the child's day-to-day needs and built-in expenses and order the non-custodial parent to pay child support based on the number of overnights and the respective incomes of the parents. However, some parents have equal parenting time in which the child lives with each parent 50% of the time. How does child support work in those cases? A divorce lawyer in New Jersey at the Ziegler Law Group, LLC explains child support in cases involving equally shared parenting time below.
How Are Child Support Calculations Made?
New Jersey has child support guidelines for courts to use as a reference when calculating child support. These guidelines take into account the incomes of both parents, the number of overnights the child spends in each parent's home, and other actors, including who pays for the child's medical insurance, daycare, other expenses, and the number of children for which a parent pays support. A worksheet is used to make the calculations. When parents have an equal or nearly equal number of overnights per year, the parents will use the shared custody calculation worksheet.
Income for Child Support Purposes
For child support purposes, the following sources are counted as income:
- Each parent's wages
- Salaries, tips, commissions, and bonuses earned by either parent
- Self-employment income
- Rental income
- Money earned from trusts, endowments, life insurance payments, and annuities
Child Support Worksheet
The child support worksheet used to calculate child support in New Jersey has people input information for the primary residential parent and the non-custodial parent in separate, side-by-side columns. It doesn't provide separate columns to account for when parents share time equally. In that case, the parent whose data goes into the column as the primary residential parent will typically be the parent whose address is used for school purposes. However, the guidelines do not account for situations in which a child lives with each parent an equal amount of time during the school week.
The guideline child support amount depends on the following factors:
- Each parent's total income minus taxes and deductions
- The shared or total income of both parents
- The number of overnights the child spends in each home
- Any add-on expenses for health insurance or daycare one parent has
Normally, the child will primarily live with the parent who receives support. When a child lives with each parent for an equal amount of time, it will typically result in less child support being paid overall. However, 50/50 child custody doesn't mean that no child support will be ordered.
Child Support Factors
Several factors are taken into account when child support is calculated.
Number of Overnights
How much time the child spends with each parent factors into how much child support might be ordered. If a child spends most of the time in the home of one parent, that parent will be considered the primary residential parent. However, when the parents have a shared custody arrangement through which the child spends an equal number of overnights with each parent, the calculation becomes murkier. While the courts will use a shared custody calculation model, differences can occur by counting one parent as the primary residential parent in the calculation versus the other.
Attorneys might try running the child support calculation by using one parent as the primary residential parent in the worksheet and then switching and running the calculation again. Doing this returns how much child support either parent might expect from the other parent if they were deemed the primary residential parent for calculation purposes. They can then take the difference between the two amounts to determine how much child support should be ordered or agreed to.
Income of Each Parent
The courts expect both parents to contribute financially to the upbringing of their children. When a child primarily lives with one parent, the guidelines include a built-in assumption that the primary parent will have added expenses to have the child live with them. This assumption is reflected in the child support calculations. When the child lives with both parents equally, each parent will have those built-in expenses since they will have the child in their home for half of the total amount of time.
The incomes of each parent factor into the child support calculation. Each parent's income from all sources will be calculated and totaled. The net incomes of both parents will be totaled to determine the total amount of support to be shared by the parents. Each parent's net income will then be calculated based on the total to determine their share of support as a percentage.
For example, if two parents have 50/50 custody, and one parent earns 40% of the total income while the other earns 60%, the parent earning 60% can anticipate owing 20% more of the total support obligation and be ordered to pay the child support to the lower-earning parent. If both parents have equal incomes, any child support that will be ordered will likely be minimal in a true 50/50 shared parenting arrangement.
The parents might be ordered to share the expense of the child's extraordinary expenses for school, extracurriculars, etc. One parent's support payment to the other might be ordered to cover their portion of those expenses with the other parent being responsible for paying them.
Child Support Guidelines Create a Rebuttable Presumption
It's important to note that the child support guidelines create a rebuttable presumption and do not control what might be ordered. Either parent can present evidence to overcome the presumption and show the child support guideline amount is not appropriate under the circumstances.
When parents share custody and have nearly equal incomes, that doesn't necessarily mean that neither will be ordered to pay child support. However, any child support that might be ordered will likely be lower than if the parents didn't have equal time and equal incomes. The parents can also work out an agreement for support that fairly reflects their individual circumstances and ensures their child will enjoy a good quality of life in both homes.
Get Help From a Divorce Lawyer in New Jersey
Child support calculations can be difficult to determine. If you are preparing to divorce or separate from your significant other, you should speak with an experienced attorney at the Ziegler Law Group, LLC for help with determining child support. Contact us today for more information by calling (973) 533-1100.
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