While the New Jersey Child Support Guidelines provides guidance on how to determine child support for multiple families, the Appellate Division in Harte v. Hand, a newly published (precedential) decision, provides a more detailed computation analysis that the Court describes as a “workable method” to achieve equity. The Guidelines anticipate an adjustment when an payor must support more than one family and, in mandating that no family be favored over another, the Guidelines provide:
Prior child support orders must be deducted from the payor’s weekly Adjusted Gross Taxable Income because such an obligation is not available to pay other child support obligations.
In some cases, one individual may be obligated to pay child support to multiple families. When the court adjudicates a case involving an obligor with multiple family obligations, it may be necessary to review all past orders for that individual. If the court has jurisdiction over all matters, it may either average the orders or fashion some other equitable resolution to treat all supported children fairly under the guidelines.
What you need to know about the facts of the case:
- Dad had 3 children, each of whom had a different mother.
- Oldest son lived with Dad and his current wife. Mom lived in Florida and did not contribute to his support.
- Younger son lived with his mother.
- Youngest child (a girl) lived with Dad’s former wife.
- Dad was a concrete layer and finisher before he was seriously injured on the job, for which he received a $1.2 million settlement in 2007. Dad claimed to have netted approximately half of that amount after paying off what he claimed were outstanding obligations.
- When Dad was injured, he was already paying child support to the middle child and was married to the mother of his daughter.
- After the settlement, Dad agreed to an imputation of $57,200 in annual income when recalculating child support for the middle child. The same imputation was agreed upon between Dad and the mother of his daughter when they divorced in 2009.
- Numerous enforcement motions occurred when Dad failed to make payment. Dad claimed that he was unable to earn the $57,200 income level he had previously agreed to impute to himself.
- In calculating child support for each of the 2 children at issue (since there was no dispute as to the oldest son living with Dad), the family judge calculated both support obligations using Dad’s imputed annual income of $57,200. While the trial court completed line 2(d) – the Other Dependent Deduction – pertaining to the oldest son living with Dad, it deliberately left blank line 2(b) – Prior Child Support Orders (past relationships), as if the only other child that Dad supported was the oldest son living with him. Since the two support obligations were being simultaneously determined, the trial court determined that it would be unfair to deem either order as the “prior” initial order because it would deduct that amount when determining support for the other child. The Appellate Division deemed this to be in error.
The Appellate Division determined that a “prior order” adjustment should be used to achieve “parity” amongst the children of multiple families. It did so to ensure that a “later-born” child was not penalized by reducing the payor’s available income by the prior child support obligation. As a result, the steps used by the Court were as follows to determine support for the middle child (Child A) and the youngest child (Child B), as there was no dispute as to the other dependent deduction for the oldest child:
For Child A’s matter:
- Use the Guidelines to calculate support with Child A as having the “prior order” (Line 2b) and Child B as the recipient of the “second order.”
- Flip these positions so that Child B is considered as having the “prior order” (Line 2b) and Child A is the recipient of the “second order.”
- Average the results on Line 27 for each of the two calculations. The payor will pay this averaged amount for Child A.
For Child B’s matter:
- Use the Guidelines to calculate support with Child B as having the “prior order” (Line 2b) and Child A as the recipient of the “second order.”
- Flip these positions so that Child A is considered as having the “prior order” (Line 2b) and Child B is the recipient of the “second order.”
- Average the results on Line 27 for each of the two calculations. The payor will pay this averaged amount for Child B.
This formula is somewhat time consuming and reminded me of the Benisch formula for calculating support in a 50/50 shared parenting arrangement. The Appellate Division concluded that this computation helps to ensure that “the children [are] treated fairly regardless of birth order, while not disregarding the father’s obligation to pay for all three children.” While your head may be spinning at the thought of a situation where even more children potentially exist, the calculation would be similarly performed so as to determine an equitable payment for each child. The analysis would also change if the parties’ respective incomes were above the Guidelines limit (combined net, after tax, income of $187,200), which would then additionally merit a consideration of the statutory child support factors and the children’s reasonable needs beyond the Guidelines analysis.
Robert Epstein is an associate in Fox Rothschild LLP’s Family Law Practice Group. Robert practices in the firm’s Roseland, New Jersey office and can be reached at (973) 994-7526, or firstname.lastname@example.org.