As a family lawyer, one of the questions I am most frequently asked is, “what expenses are included in the Child Support Guidelines?” To back up a step, the New Jersey Child Support Guidelines typically apply to those parents who collectively earn a net income of up to $187,200. For those couples making in excess of that amount, the Guidelines are supposed to still be applied, and then an additional amount is to be determined through an analysis of the factors set forth in New Jersey’s child support statute.
So what expenses, then, are included in the standard Guidelines computation? The Rules Governing the Courts of the State of New Jersey includes a section entitled, “Considerations in the Use of Child Support Guidelines.” One such consideration, entitled “Expenses Included in the Child Support Schedules”, provides, “The . . . support awards include the child’s share of expenses for housing, food, clothing, transportation, entertainment, unreimbursed health care up to and including $250 per child per year, and miscellaneous items.”
The following expenses are then listed as being included in the support number:
- Housing – Without going through every sub-expense included in this category, some notable items are the mortgage principal and interest payments, home equity loans, property taxes, insurance, repairs, maintenance, rent, domestic services, and furniture. There are several other sub-expenses also included, down to incredibly narrow items such as cleaning and toilet tissues, lawn products, clocks, luggage, and light fixtures. Needless to say, it is an incredibly broad category.
- Food – This includes all food and non-alcoholic beverages purchased for home consumption or purchased away from home (i.e., restaurants, school meals, catered affairs, and even vending machines and tips). Non-food items, including alcoholic beverages and cigarettes, are not included.
- Clothing – This includes all children’s clothing, including school uniforms, footwear (but, somehow not including footwear for sports), diapers, repairs or alterations to clothes or footwear, storage, dry cleaning, laundry, and, interestingly, watches and jewelry.
- Transportation – The cost of owning or leasing a motor vehicle including, but not limited to, payments towards the principal cost, lease payments, finance charges (interest), gas, motor oil, insurance, maintenance and repairs. Related items are also included, such as public transit, parking fees, license and registration fees, towing, tolls, and auto service clubs. Notably, this category does not include, among other things, expenses associated with a motor vehicle purchased or leased for primary use by the child subject to the child support order at issue.
- Unreimbursed Health Care Up to and Including $250 Per Child Per Year (medical and dental) – These are generally considered ordinary medical expenses, such as non-prescription drugs, co-pays or health care services, equipment or products. The cost of adding a child to a health insurance policy is not included.
- Entertainment – Fees, memberships and admissions to sports, recreational, or social events, lessons or instructions, movie rentals, televisions, mobile devices, sound equipment, pets, hobbies, toys, playground equipment, photographic equipment, film processing, video games, and recreational, exercise or sports equipment. Notably, court orders and settlement agreements tend to separate out the cost for children’s activities and enrichment programs, including lessons, classes, and the like, as a separate expense from that included in the Guidelines figure.
- Miscellaneous Items – Personal care products and services (e.g., hair, shaving, cosmetics), books and magazines, school supplies, cash contributions, personal insurance, and finance charges (except those for the mortgage and vehicle purchases).
Tuition for private schools, parochial schools or post-secondary educational institutions is expressly excluded and may, and generally are, treated as a supplemental expense.
You may be thinking to yourself that there seem to be so many expenses included in the Guidelines number, and so many others that are missing. Your thought process would be correct, in that there are always expenses that arise beyond that set forth in the Guidelines considerations. It is simply impossible for everything to be included, which is why I am frequently asked by clients whether he or she has to pay for a given expense incurred on a child’s behalf. I find that the payor spouse generally wants as much detail as possible in an agreement as to what the child support covers, while the payee spouse prefers to keep the language more general and open to discussion. Indeed, settlement agreements are typically general as well, and do not delineate each and every expense covered by the agreed upon support number, while also separating out certain “larger ticket” items. I will blog separately on those items, and I hope, for starters, that the above provides guidance to those wondering what expenses are actually included in the Guidelines computation.