How is Child Support Calculated?

This is probably the most commonly asked question during a consultation. This blog is intended to provide a very basic overview of the calculation of child support in New Jersey. Bear in mind that like many other areas of family law, there are deviations, exceptions, and unusual cases that extend beyond this article.

Child support is determined by the New Jersey Child Support Guidelines. The Guidelines were developed in the 1980s, after it became apparent that the determination of child support throughout the State was not uniform. Two families in similar circumstances, but appearing in front of different judges, could receive completely different child support awards. The Guidelines were meant to provide a uniform, straightforward approach to calculating child support awards.

The Guidelines are essentially a formula calculated by a computer program. It is based on estimates of what intact families spend on their children. The theory behind the Guidelines is that parents at different income levels spend a percentage of their income on their children. It considers many factors, including the number of children, the parties’ gross incomes (including alimony), and the number of overnights each parent has with the child(ren). Therefore, in order to calculate an accurate child support award, both parties must have a custody agreement and an alimony figure (if applicable).

There are circumstances where it is appropriate to deviate from the Guidelines. Examples are where parties have very high or very low incomes. If the parties earn more than a combined net income of $187,200 per year, the judge may award additional child support. On the other hand, if the paying parent earns less than the federal poverty guideline, the judge must evaluate that party’s expenses and determine what amount he/she can afford to pay in child support.

Every dollar of child support is not meant to be spent specifically on your child, such as on clothes, food, entertainment, etc. A large portion of child support is meant to help the custodial parent subsidize the cost of his/her basic housing expenses, such as the rent, mortgage, utilities, etc.

Technically, child support includes the cost spent on the child’s extracurricular activities. However, in some circumstances, expenses for some extracurricular activities are costly and beyond what the Guidelines contemplate. As a result, it is common for parties to separately negotiate the payment of extracurricular activities. If your child is involved in such activities, it is important to discuss these expenses with your attorney.

The absence of a meaningful relationship does not relieve a parent from a child support obligation. Furthermore, a court will not permit a custodial parent to waive child support. This is because the right to receive the support belongs to the child.

A common misconception is that child support ends when a child turns 18 years old. In reality, the duty to pay child support ends when the child is “emancipated” - when the child is deemed to be self-sufficient. Most children are deemed emancipated when they finish college, assuming they continuously attend college full-time and with reasonable diligence. Again, there are exceptions. For example, a child with special needs may be entitled to receive child support beyond the age that a typical child is considered capable of being self-sufficient.

If you want to know more about child support and how it should be calculated in your circumstances, call our team at 973-993-9960 to schedule a consultation.