In the not-too-distant past, child support calculations and awards throughout New Jersey (and throughout the country, in fact) were largely left to the discretion of the judge who was handling the case. This led to a great deal of disparity in child support awards throughout the state, even in situations that appeared to be similar, as each judge would be permitted to consider the factors he or she felt most relevant to a particular case and could enter a child support award accordingly. This changed when New Jersey adopted the child support guidelines.
The guidelines are based on a formula created by economists at the request of the New Jersey Supreme Court and are designed to eliminate much of the discretion judges were once able to exercise in calculating child support. This benefits litigants and their attorneys, who are now able to better anticipate a court’s child support order and prevent a court from “punishing” a litigant whom the court may have felt had not thus far satisfactorily fulfilled his or her parental duties by ordering that parent to pay a large amount of child support.
When the Child Support Guidelines Do Not Apply
Although the guidelines will apply and be followed in the vast majority of child support cases, there are several situations that may arise in which the court is able to deviate from the guidelines or in which the guidelines will not apply. These include:
- Where one person earns more than $187,200 per year: The child support guidelines apply to those who earn less than $187,200 per year, or $3,600 per week. If a person earns more than $187,200 per year, the judge can add a discretionary child support amount pursuant to the factors set forth in N.J.S.A. 2A:34-23. In these situations, a person is considered to be paying above-guidelines support.
- Where the family has six or more children: The child support guidelines formula only contemplates a family that consists of six or fewer children. When a family has more than six children, the court must go outside the child support guidelines in order to craft a child support order that is fair and appropriate under the circumstances. In doing so, the earnings of the individual parents along with any special needs that any of the children may have will be of primary importance.
- Where the child is 18 years of age or older and attending college: In many cases a parent’s obligation to pay child support ends when the child graduates high school and/or turns 18 years of age. If the adult child decides to attend college, a court may order a parent to continue paying an amount of child support for a reasonable amount of time while the child is enrolled in college. The financial resources of the parents and any special needs of the child will be considered when making deciding whether continuing child support is appropriate and, if so, in what amount.
- Where there is “good cause” shown: If one parent presents sufficient evidence to believe that the amount of child support called for by the guidelines is either insufficient or is too great for the family’s situation, a court may deviate from the guidelines. For example, a disabled child that has significant medical and educational needs may require additional expenses, thereby justifying a higher child support award. Conversely, if there is something about the financial situation of the parties individually that makes the presumed child support amount unfair, the court may order a lower child support amount. The party requesting the departure from the presumed amount bears the burden of establishing the need for the departure through evidence and testimony.
Whether you are asking the court to enter a new temporary or permanent child support order or you are needing to modify an existing child support order, the Bronzino Law Firm can help. Assisting clients in Monmouth County and Ocean County as well as the surrounding areas, Attorney Peter J. Bronzino can assist you in evaluating whether a departure from the child support guidelines is warranted in your case. If so, he can assist you in gathering the evidence and testimony you will need to support your claim. Contact the Bronzino Law Firm at (732) 812-3102 today.