The State of New Jersey adopted Child Support Guidelines in 1986 to create consistency in its child support awards. Pursuant to the Family Support Act of 1988, states are required to review their Guidelines every four years to assure that the awards accurately reflect current child-rearing costs. This most recent review, which became effective as of September 1, 2013, is noteworthy because it captures spending in families over a twelve-year period, from 2000 through 2011, which encompasses prosperous years, recession years and the current slow recovery years, resulting in a child support determination that takes into consideration the economic reality that many families have been forced to “get by” on less.
HOW ARE THE CHILD SUPPORT GUIDELINES CALCULATED?
The Guidelines adopted in New Jersey are based on the “Income Shares Model,” whereby child support is calculated by using both parents’ incomes, specifying what it costs to raise children based on the combined incomes of the two parents, net of taxes, and the number of children covered by the Guidelines. Under the most recent Guideline revisions, for some income levels, the child support amount has gone up, and for other income levels, the amount has gone down. However, as with the previous Guidelines, each situation is unique and no generalizations can be made regarding the overall effect of the 2013 revisions.
In addition to addressing the basic child support amount, there were additional issues focused on during the review process, such as a possible adjustment in child support to address situations where there are multiple children and each child has a different parenting time schedule.
The Child Support Guidelines are structured to calculate the estimated basic support for multiple children of the relationship. The basic support amount is then adjusted, giving credit for the shifts in costs from one parent to another during parenting time. This adjustment is appropriate when all children in the calculation have the same parenting time schedule, but what if the non-custodial parent is awarded 112 annual overnights with one child and only 52 annual overnights with the other child? Rather than try and address every possible parenting time variation that could arise when there are multiple children with varying parenting time schedules, it was determined that these scenarios are fact sensitive and best left to the discretion of the court as to whether or not to deviate from the Child Support Guidelines in such situations.
HOW ARE CALCULATIONS DETERMINED BY CUSTODY?
Another issue considered was whether, when both parents equally share residential custody (50/50), the lower-income earning parent should be presumed to be the Parent of Primary Residence (PPR) so that he/she receives an adjustment in the controlled expenses of the child support (clothing, personal care, entertainment), which make up 25% of the total child support award. Once again, it was determined that such situations are fact sensitive and best left to the sound discretion of the court.
The Child Support Guidelines cannot possibly address each and every child related expense or anticipate the numerous variations in physical custody and/or parenting time that can affect those expenses, however the most recent revisions to the Guidelines made significant strides in relation to the basic child support award by allowing for support determinations that take the recent tough economic times into account when setting the basic support award.
© Shanahan & Voigt, LLC 2014
BE ADVISED that these comments are not legal opinions and are not to be relied upon as legal advice. If you need legal advice, contact your county bar association; most of which have referral services.