As commented by Eric S. Solotoff is his recent blog post, The New Year’s Resolution Divorce, many people vow not to live another unhappy year with their spouse and begin taking steps towards educating themselves in the divorce process in January. Many people contemplating divorce have children and one of their biggest worries is how their children will be financially supported if they were to physically separate or divorce. As such, I will be blogging each week on a different aspect of child support in New Jersey.
In New Jersey, the calculation of child support is governed by the “Child Support Guidelines”, which can be found in Appendix IX-A of the New Jersey Rules of Court. These guidelines were developed to provide the Court with economic information from the parents to assist in the establishment and modification of fair and adequate child support awards. The guidelines attempt to simulate the percentage of parental net income that is spent on children in intact families. The underlying philosophy behind the creation of the New Jersey Child Support Guidelines is as follows:
(1) child support is a continuous duty of both parents;
(2) children are entitled to share in the current income of both parents; and
(3) children should not be the economic victims of divorce or out-of-wedlock birth.
By its very name, “Guidelines”, it would appear that the use of them to determine child support is optional. However it is rare that the Child Support Guidelines are not utilized when establishing or modifying child support awards. In accordance with Rule 5:6A, these guidelines must be used as a rebuttable presumption to establish and modify all child support orders. A rebuttable presumption means that an award based on the guidelines is assumed to be the correct amount of child support unless a party proves to the court that circumstances exist that make a guidelines-based award inappropriate in a specific case. The guidelines-based award may be disregarded or adjusted if a party shows, and the court finds, that such action is appropriate due to conflict with one of the factors set forth in Appendix IX-A or an injustice would result due to the application of the guidelines in a specific case. The determination of whether good cause exists to disregard or adjust a guidelines-based award is within the sole discretion of the court.
Therefore, absent good cause, the guidelines must be applied in all actions, contested and uncontested (even if you and your spouse agree), in which child support is being determined including:
(1) pendente lite child support (temporary child support award established during the pendency of the divorce);
(2) divorce (child support award paid after the parties are divorced);
(3) non-dissolution matters (cases in which parents share a child but are either not married or are separated without having initiated a cause of action for divorce);
(4) interstate child support awards (Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (UIFSA));
(5) domestic violence proceedings;
(6) foster care; and
(7) public assistance cases (Temporary Assistance to Needy Families or TANF).
Lauren E. Koster is an associate in Fox Rothschild LLP’s Family Law Practice Group. Lauren practices in the firm’s Princeton, New Jersey office and can be reached at (609) 844-3027 or firstname.lastname@example.org.