Understanding New Jersey Child Support Laws

Understanding New Jersey Child Support Laws

In New Jersey, either of a child's parents might be ordered to pay child support. This is money that the paid by the non-custodial parent to the other parent to help them with the costs involved in raising a child. Typically, a child support order will continue until the child turns age 19 or graduates from high school, but it can be continued beyond that age if the child remains in high school, is attending college full-time, or has a mental or physical condition that requires continued support. Courts in Nersey calculate the child support amount the obligor parent will have to pay by following the state's child support guidelines in most cases. However, deviating from the child support guidelines can occur when the circumstances warrant doing so. A divorce lawyer in New Jersey at the Ziegler Law Group can review your case and calculate the amount of child support you might expect to pay or receive.

How Do You Get Child Support?

A parent can get child support in New Jersey in a few different ways. They can negotiate with the other spouse to reach a child support agreement that satisfies both parties. A parent can also request a child support order in court as a part of their divorce or child custody proceeding. However, most parents submit applications for child support to the New Jersey Child Support Agency (CSA). Suppose the custodial parent doesn't know where the child's other parent is or where they are employed. In that case, the CSA will work to find them, establish a support obligation, collect payments from the noncustodial parent's wages, and enforce the orders through the New Jersey Probation Division.

Paternity and Child Support

One issue some unmarried parents have with getting a child support order is establishing paternity for the child. Suppose an unmarried father did not sign the child's birth certificate or sign an acknowledgment of his paternity. In that case, the custodial parent must establish his paternity before child support will be awarded. The CSA can help establish a child's paternity, or the custodial parent can file a paternity action in court. The unmarried father and the child will both be ordered to submit DNA samples with a cheek swab, which will then be tested to confirm the father's paternity or lack thereof. Establishing paternity likewise gives the unmarried father access to his parental rights to pursue visitation and custody.

How Child Support Is Calculated in New Jersey

New Jersey's child support guidelines follow a shared-income model to calculate child support obligations. The incomes of both parents will be taken into account to determine the appropriate support amount by taking a percentage of their combined income to calculate each parent's portion of the child support obligation. For example, if one parent earns $50,000, and the other parent earns $75,000, their total combined income would be $125,000. The parent earning $50,000 would be responsible for 40% of the child support obligation, and the higher-earning parent would be responsible for 60%.

The guidelines also take into account the number of nights per year the child spends with each parent. If one parent has sole residential custody of a child, the guidelines will take that into account and assume that the parent already spends their share of the child support obligation on the child. When parents share residential custody, adjustments will be made to account for that since both parents will have some expenses related to their children when they stay with them. The balance of a parent's retirement account will not be taken into account. However, if the parent is already taking distributions from it, those distributions will be counted.

Includable Income:

The following types of income are countable for child support calculations:
  • Wages, commissions, and tips
  • Self-employment income after ordinary and necessary expenses have been deducted
  • Pension payments and distributions from retirement plans
  • Social Security retirement benefits
  • Disability benefits
  • Unemployment and workers' compensation
  • Dividends and interest
  • Alimony payments a parent receives from a former or current spouse (but not any child support received for children with a different parent)
  • Rental income

After the parent's gross income is added, the net income will be determined by subtracting several deductions, including mandatory retirement contributions, income tax withholdings, and union dues.

Imputed Income

If one parent tries to avoid paying child support by purposely not working, the court can impute income to that parent. In that situation, the amount of child support will be based on what the judge believes the parent could earn based on the following factors:
  • Education
  • Job skills
  • Work history
  • Past earnings
  • Age
  • Health
  • Any obstacles to employment
  • Available jobs in the area

Adjustments to the Basic Calculation

After the basic child support calculation is completed, adjustments can be made for child care costs, health care costs, and one parent's provision of health insurance for the child. As previously mentioned, an adjustment will also be made based on how much time the child spends with each parent.

If the child primarily lives with one parent while the other parent has parenting time, either the sole parenting or the shared parenting worksheet will be used based on the number of overnights the child spends with the noncustodial parent. The shared parenting worksheet will be used if the child spends two or more nights per week with the noncustodial parent.

When Might the Court Deviate from the Child Support Guideline Amount?

A judge can deviate from the child support guidelines when applying the guidelines would be unjust. This means the court could order a child support amount that is higher or lower than the calculated amount. The following are some of the factors that might warrant a departure from the support guidelines:
  • Parent's income that is either very low or very high
  • Either parent's unreimbursed dental or medical expenses
  • Private school tuition for the child
  • A parent's education expenses to improve their ability to earn an income
  • The extraordinary needs of a disabled or gifted child
  • The child's age
  • One parent's obligation to care for a disabled or elderly family member
  • One parent already paying support to a different person for a shared child

The court will consider what is in the child's best interests when determining whether to deviate from the child support guidelines.

Payment of Child Support

Child support is always withheld from the obligor's wages unless the parents have a written child support agreement in place to pay directly. The court can also find that there is a valid reason for a different arrangement other than mandatory withholding. Child support can also be withheld from disability, unemployment, and retirement payments.

When payments are withheld, the employer remits them to the New Jersey Family Support Payment Center, which processes the payments and issues them to the recipients. When a paying parent switches jobs, they should notify the CSA and arrange for child support to be withheld from their income at their new company.

The receiving parent can choose to receive child support payments by direct deposit, a direct payment app, or by check. They can also request payment on a debit card that isn't tied to a bank account.

Termination of Child Support

Child support will automatically end when one of the following events occurs:
  • The child gets married
  • The child passes away
  • The child turns 19 if not in college
  • The child turns 23 if they were a full-time college student post-high school

Child support will not be automatically terminated in the following situations:
  • The court ordered child support up to a different age
  • The child has severe mental or physical disabilities that render them financially dependent on a parent
  • The child was placed outside of the home by the state
  • The custodial parent submits a written request for the support to continue that the judge approves

Parents can ask for the child support payments to be continued until the child turns 23 in the following situations:
  • The child remains enrolled in high school
  • The child is enrolled as a full-time student in a college or university
  • The child has a mental or physical disability that existed before the child reached age 19 and needs continued support

Even when a child support obligation ends, it won't terminate the obligation for the paying parent to catch up on any arrears they owe. Unpaid back child support doesn't go away, and it can't be discharged in bankruptcy.

Enforcement of Child Support Orders

Child support orders can be enforced in court or by the CSA. The CSA can take any of the following enforcement actions when a parent has failed to make child support payments as ordered:
  • Reporting the debt to credit reporting agencies
  • Intercepting income tax refunds
  • Revocation or suspension of the parent's driver's and professional licenses
  • Asset seizure
  • Denial of a passport
  • Placing a lien against a civil court settlement or award
  • Seeking enforcement through the court

If enforcement is sought through the court, the parent could be arrested or held in contempt if they don't immediately make a payment.

Child Support Modification

A parent's child support obligation won't end just because the parent's financial situation has changed. Instead, a parent who is ordered to pay child support should file a request to modify the child support amount as soon as their financial circumstances change to a substantial extent to prevent arrears from accumulating. Until a modification is granted, the parent should continue making payments as ordered.

Changes in Circumstances

To get a child support modification, the parent will need to show the court that they have experienced a substantial change in their financial circumstances since the original order was issued. If they meet that threshold, the court will then evaluate the evidence to determine whether a modification would be in the best interests of the child.

Agency Review

A parent can ask the County Board of Social Services Agency to review a current child support order once every year years without needing to show a change in circumstances. The agency will recommend a modification if the current financial circumstances warrant a 20% or greater change from the current support amount. Three-year agency reviews are automatically conducted when a parent receives public assistance.

Child Support Adjustments Based on Cost-of-Living Changes

New Jersey child support orders are adjusted biennially to keep up with cost-of-living changes. This adjustment is based on the average change reflected in the Consumer Price Index (CPI) for metropolitan areas in the state.

Is Getting a Child Support Order Necessary?

Some parents think that getting a child support order from the CSA or the court is unnecessary and instead come to informal agreements with their children's other parents for the payment of child support. However, if the other parent fails to make the payments or pay for the things they agreed to pay, the other parent will not have the ability to seek enforcement of the informal arrangement through the CSA or the court. You should also understand that child support is meant to help ensure the child enjoys the same standard of living that they would have enjoyed if their parents had remained together. Since child support is for your child's benefit and not your own, you should have a child support order in place to protect both their rights and yours.

Contact a Divorce Lawyer in New Jersey

If you have questions about child custody and support, you should contact a divorce lawyer in New Jersey at the Ziegler Law Group. We can help you establish a support order, establish paternity, negotiate a parenting agreement, or modify your existing order. To learn more, contact us to schedule an appointment by calling 973-878-4373.

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