In New Jersey child support is based on Child Support Guidelines which were designed to provide assistance in determining the actual cost of raising a child. The Guidelines establish a range of support to be paid by both parents proportionately to their income. There is a rebuttable presumption that the Guidelines are correct, providing that the children are not yet 18, are not away from home at college, and assuming further that the combined net annual available income of the parents does not exceed $150,800 (after subtracting tax, social security, and other allowable deductions from gross income). There are also several other factors that are considered while calculating the amount of support. As such, the only way to accurately determine just how much the child support obligation will be is to have all the necessary information available, and then utilize the guidelines step-by-step to arrive at the number.
As a rule, child support is determined by taking into consideration the general basic cost of running a household which consists of:
- “fixed” shelter costs, such a mortgage/rent, utilities;
- “variable” expenses, such as food and transportation; and
- “controlled” expenses, which include clothing, personal care, entertainment and other personal items.
Additionally, the Courts look at the income of each of the parties, along with a number of other factors, including the amount of time that each party spends with their children as the more time that a parent spends with the children the lower his or her child support obligation may be. The Courts also look at the costs of work related child care and the cost of providing health insurance for the child while calculating child support.
Moreover, the judges also have discretion to order other costs above and beyond the basic child support guideline figure, which may include private school, post-secondary school, special education and any number of other expenses that were not considered by the child support guidelines, if a Court is convinced that the expense is reasonable. Also, the judge may modify the levels in the Guidelines if a finding can be made that – due to the circumstances of a particular family, the Guidelines amount would be unjust or otherwise inappropriate. As explained earlier, the Court may deviate from the Guidelines if the combined annual net income of both parties is more than $150,800 or for any of the other reasons enumerated in Appendix IX-A of the Rules of Court, which sets forth Considerations in the Use of Child Support Guidelines.
Under Zazzo v. Zazzo, 245 N.J. Super. 124, 129 (App. Div. 1990), certain factors must be considered in setting the amount of child support. These factors reinforce the distinction between spousal support and child support in cases not covered by court rule. N.J.S.A. 2A:34-23 provides that in determining the amount to be paid by parent for support of the child and the period during which the duty of support is owed, the court in those cases not governed by court rule shall consider, but not be limited to, the following factors:
- Needs of the child;
- Standard of living and economic circumstances of each parent;
- All sources of income and assets of each parent;
- Earning ability of each parent, including educational background, training, employment skills, work experience, custodial responsibility for children, including the cost of providing child care and the length of time and cost of each parent to obtain training or experience for appropriate employment;
- Need and capacity of the child for education, including higher education;
- Age and health of the child and each parent;
- Income, assets and earning ability of the child;
- Responsibility of the parents for the court-ordered support of others;
- Reasonable debts and liabilities of each child and parent; and
- Any other factors the court may deem relevant.
In Pascale v. Pascale, 140 N.J. 583 (1985) the Supreme Court found that it is within a court’s discretion to consider the child support guidelines and the statutory criteria when determining a child support award that is in the child’s best interests.
Once established, child support obligation concludes only upon the emancipation of the child. What this actually means is that child support ends when the child is self supporting. In New Jersey there is no fixed time for emancipation. However, emancipation usually occurs upon a child reaching majority, upon the child’s graduation from secondary education, upon the child’s entry into the armed forces, upon the child’s marriage, upon the child’s graduation from post secondary or even graduate school, or at any other time that the Court believes the child is expected to be self-supporting.