Are your expenditures for your children “average?” Be careful to make sure that all of your children’s expenses are included in child support. Most parents going through the divorce process are aware that New Jersey has guidelines to assist courts in determining support for children. But many do not know what exactly the guidelines are supposed to cover and whether their particular situation warrants a deviation.
Judges are required to calculate the child support guidelines in all cases. In cases where the combined net income of both parents is $187,200 or under, the amount under the guidelines will be applied. In cases in which the combined income is in excess of $187,200 net per year, the court is to use the guideline amount and then supplement that amount, based on a variety of factors. The guideline amount is a rebuttable presumption which means that the amount that is calculated is deemed to be the appropriate amount of child support unless a party can demonstrate that the amount is not. The Guidelines specifically tell us that the awards are based on an average of the percentage of income spent on children by a large number of families in a variety of socioeconomic situations.
What’s included in the child support guideline award? Through research and statistical analysis, the guidelines have determined that the following expenses are included in the Guideline amounts for the following categories (taken directly from the NJ Court Rules):
Housing: Mortgage interest payments or home equity loans, property taxes, insurance, refinancing charges, repairs, maintenance, rent, parking fees, property management or security fees, expenses for vacation homes, lodging while out of town, utilities, fuels, public services, domestic services, lawn care, gardening, pest control, laundry and dry cleaning (non-clothing), moving and storage, repairs on home, furniture, major appliances, purchase or rental of household equipment of tools, postage, laundry or cleaning supplies, cleaning and toilet tissues, household and lawn products, stationary, all indoor and outdoor furniture, floor coverings, all small appliances and housewares (except personal care appliances), all household textiles (e.g., linens, drapes, slipcovers, sewing materials, etc.), and miscellaneous household equipment (e.g., clocks, luggage, light fixtures, computers and software, decorating items, etc.). The net purchase price of a home and mortgage principal payments are considered savings and are not included as expenditures in this category.
Food – All food and non-alcoholic beverages purchased for home consumption or purchased away from home (including vending machines, restaurants, tips, school meals and catered affairs). Non-food items (e.g., tissue papers, alcoholic beverages, cigarettes) are not included.
Clothing – All children’s clothing, footwear (except special footwear for sports), diapers, repairs or alterations to clothing and footwear, storage, dry cleaning, laundry, watches, and jewelry.
Transportation – All costs involved with owning or leasing an automobile including monthly installments toward principal cost, finance charges (interest), lease payments, gas and motor oil, insurance, maintenance and repairs. Also, included are other costs related to transportation such as public transit, parking fees, license and registration fees, towing, tolls, and automobile service clubs. The net outlay (purchase price minus the trade- in value) for a vehicle purchase is not included.
Unreimbursed Health Care Up to and Including $250 Per Child Per Year – Unreimbursed health-care expenditures (e.g., medical and dental) up to and including $250 per child per year are included in the schedules. Such expenses are considered ordinary and may include items such as non- prescription drugs, co-payments or health care services, equipment or products. The parent’s cost of adding a child to health insurance policy is not included in the schedules.
Entertainment – Fees, memberships and admissions to sports, recreational, or social events, lessons or instructions, movie rentals, televisions, radios, sound equipment, pets, hobbies, toys, playground equipment, photographic equipment, film processing, video games, and recreational, exercise or sports equipment.
Miscellaneous Items – Personal care products and services (e.g., hair, shaving, cosmetics), books and magazines, education (e.g., tuition, books, supplies), cash contributions, personal insurance, and finance charges (except those for mortgage and vehicle purchases).
Most litigants have never considered this list. As one minor example, the excerpt above clearly states that child support does not include footwear for sports. Yet I have yet to meet a custodial parent who knew that they could ask for a separate contribution towards soccer cleats or ballet shoes! Although this is a minor expense, comparatively speaking, other expenses can be far ore significant.
Judges will, as a general rule, simply apply the guideline amount without any further questioning or review. When preparing for a case in which child support is an issue, it is important to complete a full analysis of what expenses the child or children have and then ask two questions: First, are there expenses on behalf of the child which are not mentioned in the guidelines, and second, are the actual expenses typical. This second question is more difficult to answer as the guidelines do not offer much assistance as to what the average expense is. But what the guidelines do say very specifically is that they are based upon basic needs for an average family. There can be deviations from the amounts under the guidelines, and any such deviation has to be in writing. If a case has particular circumstances, it is important that those circumstances be brought to the attention to your lawyer so that they can be considered when child support is calculated.