Sussex County Child Support Lawyers
New Jersey is an income share state for child support purposes, which means that the child support obligation is divided between both parents based on their proportional share of income and their level of child custody. Similar to custody proceedings, there are guidelines in place that are presumptively reasonable, but they are not universally applicable. Although regular support obligations usually terminate when children turn 18, divorced parents usually have a continuing support obligation through most of the children’s college years.
At Hollander, Strelzik, Pasculli, Hinkes, Vandenberg & Hontz, L.L.C., our aggressive attorneys stand up for your financial rights in all divorce-related proceedings. While child support proceedings are often a matter of simple arithmetic, the outcome is far from predetermined, so we stand ready to assist you with solid legal advice and assertive courtroom advocacy.
The child support guidelines are extremely complex, but they basically boil down to a few key components.
Step One is determining gross income, and this figure is often different from the one at the bottom of a paystub. Some deductions, such as income taxes and union dues, are allowable, while others, such as 401(k) contributions and employee loan repayments, are not allowable. Furthermore, gross income for child support purposes often includes some noncash income, such as a company car or subsidized housing. Special rules often apply in military divorces, due to the complex nature of military compensation.
Step Two is determining the amount of parenting time. Currently, the magic number is 104 overnights per year (28%) because that is the dividing line between shared parenting and sole parenting. Despite this dividing line, the court makes the final determination.
Only official payments count towards the child support obligation, so to avoid future disputes over the amount paid, it is often best to arrange for wage withholding or another direct debit.
Child Support Factors
After determining the presumptive amount, most courts go through the list of child support factors to learn if the guidelines are appropriate under the circumstances. These factors include:
- Childrens’ Needs: This area is one of the most common bones of contention in these cases. For example, one parent may consider expensive private school to be a need, while the other parent considers it to be optional.
- All Available Income Sources: This factor is broader than the one used in the guidelines, since the judge may also consider assets, such as revenue-producing property awarded in the property settlement.
- Earning Ability of Each Parent: The court may consider imputed income in some cases, as parties cannot leave high-paying jobs for the sole or primary purposes of reducing a child support obligation.
- Children’s Earning Ability: Although not a consideration for young children, at least in most cases, this factor does come into play among older teens and college-age children.
- Any Stepchildren: If a parent is financially responsible for other children not currently before the court, that parent may be entitled to a reduced obligation.
Judges also have discretion to consider any other factor they deem to be relevant.
Most of these same factors also apply in modification actions, although as a general rule, most judges will make mathematical adjustments but will not revisit the subjective factors absent a very significant change in circumstances.
Postsecondary Education Costs
One key preliminary factor is the child’s commitment to, and aptitude for, college in general and a particular course of study in particular. This inquiry often revolves around the child’s high school grades, performance on admissions tests, and other objective factors, more than subjective items like teacher endorsements.
With that preliminary question out of the way, the matter turns to paying for college. Once again, there are a number of factors to consider, including:
- The amount of money the child needs
- Amount each parent is able to pay
- Child’s financial resources and ability to work
- Available loans, scholarships, and grants
- Relationship between parent and child (e.g. if father and son are close even though son lives with mother, father’s financial obligation may be higher despite his lack of physical custody)
- The relationship between the school and the child’s selected course of study
- Child’s ancillary needs, such as transportation.
Many of these factors are quite subjective. For example, does “transportation” mean a new car plus a gas/maintenance allowance, one round trip bus ticket, or something in between? What responsibility does the child have in terms of borrowing money? Should s/he borrow as much as possible, as little as possible, or something in between?
Rely on Experienced Attorneys
The child support obligation must be reasonable as far as all parties are concerned, including both parents. For a free consultation with an experienced family law attorney in Sussex County, contact Hollander, Strelzik, Pasculli, Hinkes, Vandenberg & Hontz, L.L.C. We routinely handle cases in Northern New Jersey and throughout the Garden State.