New Jersey Child Support
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Child support in New Jersey may be ordered by a court any time one parent is not living with the child. Whether parents are divorcing or have never been married, both mother and father are expected to pay a portion of basic care as well as to pay their share of health insurance, medical bills and costs, and child care costs.
Obtaining Child Support in New Jersey
There are three separate legal proceedings in the state of New Jersey in which a judge may issue a child support order. The first is when parents divorce, regardless of whether the divorce is contested or uncontested. The second is in an action to prove paternity if it is determined that the alleged father is, in fact, the father. The third is when a custodial parent or a representative from the New Jersey child support program petitions the court in order to obtain a support order.
Parents who need assistance locating a father, proving paternity or filing a simple support petition can contact the appropriate county office where they live in order to seek assistance through the New Jersey child support program. Information on the different offices throughout the county can be found on the website of New Jersey Child Support.
These offices, however, do not provide assistance with other aspects of divorce such as a divorce settlement agreement, the creation of a custody agreement, or the determination of alimony when appropriate. Further, they do not represent the legal interests of either parent; their client is the child. For parents who need their own legal representation, who want to secure their legal rights or who are undergoing a divorce, contacting an experienced family law and divorce attorney is generally the best first step in obtaining child support in New Jersey.
Calculating Child Support in New Jersey
When a judge is asked to issue a child support order, he will determine the appropriate amount of support based on state guidelines. Parents who are divorcing and who create an out-of-court settlement to resolve issues in their divorce should also consult these same guidelines. Although it is possible for a judge to issue a support order or approve a support order that deviates from these guidelines, there will need to be a clear and compelling reason why the deviation is occurring. This is because Rule 5:6A creates a rebuttable presumption that the guidelines are to be applied in all support cases.
The guidelines are intended to ensure that children whose parents are no longer together receive the same basic level of financial care, in total, as kids whose parents stay married. As such, the state tried to determine how much parents of different income levels and with different sized families spend on their kids. They then used this information to create a document called a Schedule of Child Support Awards.
On the Schedule of Child Support Awards, found in Appendix IX-F, there is a column for "Combined Net Weekly Income". This is the amount of money that both parents, combined, earn each week. The first step in calculating child support, therefore, is to add up the total amount that the parents make over the course of a week. Because only available income is considered, the court will deduct things like taxes and existing support payments to other children or former spouses that may come out of a parent's paycheck.
Once the combined weekly available income is determined, the corresponding amount on the table provides the total amount that both parents combined should spend on basic care of the child. Additional costs for work-related childcare, unreimbursed health care expenses, and payment for health insurance premiums is added to the basic support obligation.
Each parent then becomes responsible for paying a percentage of this total, equal to the percent of the combined family income he or she earns. A parent who earns 10 percent of the income, for instance, would have to pay 10 percent of the basic support and other costs. However, if the non-custodial parent gets some visitation time, his support obligation is reduced based on how often the child visits since it is assumed that some costs for care and support will be paid while caring for the child.
Enforcing Child Support
In New Jersey, income withholding is required for child support payments. This means that the money that the judge orders the non-custodial parent to pay is automatically withdrawn from his paycheck before he receives it. Income withholding is also applied to income from social security, unemployment and any other income.
Sometimes, however, parents do not pay their support or income withholding isn't possible. If a parent doesn't pay support as required, the county probation division will step in to help the custodial parent to collect. Various methods are used to enforce support orders, including taking the money owed directly from tax returns or lottery winnings, and reporting non-payment to a collection agency. Placing liens on property is also a common way to try to collect, and a judge who issued a support order may also hold the non-paying party in contempt of court in certain cases.
Modifying Child Support
Newer child support orders in New Jersey may be subject to a cost of living adjustment (COLA) and can change automatically without a hearing to account for the fact that costs tend to rise annually. In addition, support cases may be reviewed every three years to determine if a change in the support level is necessary.
When parents desire a support modification before three years has passed since the support order or review, they must petition the court for a change. The petitioning parent must show that there has been a significant change in circumstances, such as an increase or decrease in income or an increase in the child's needs, in order for the court to grant the change.
Getting Legal Help
New Jersey provides some services to parents who need assistance with child support matters. Parents who have complex cases, however, or who are undergoing a divorce and who need assistance with custody and other divorce related issues should consult with an experienced family lawyer for comprehensive legal advice.