New Jersey Child Support Lawyers
New Jersey law states that financial support for a child is the child’s right, not a their custodial parent’s right. Parents must provide financial support to their children, regardless of whether the parents were legally married at the time the relationship ended. Child support is mandatory, even if the receiving parent does not want or need the money, because New Jersey law also states that child support itself belongs to a child and cannot be waived by a parent.
Of all the tough issues you may need to deal with during a divorce or breakup and its aftermath, child support can be one of the most complex. If you are trying to get child support from your coparent or are facing child support demands you believe are unmanageable or excessive, you may need the assistance of a New Jersey child support lawyer with experience in these types of disputes.
State Laws Regarding Child Support
Most states, including New Jersey, have established specific formulas for determining the appropriate amount of child support for various parents and situations. The payable amount determined by said formula is intended to contribute to the children’s financial needs. The formula in New Jersey is called the Child Support Guidelines.
Either parent may have to pay child support to the other parent. Usually, the non-custodial parent pays child support to the custodial parent with whom the child lives with most of the time. In cases where the parents share equal time with the child, the parent with a greater income pays child support to the parent with lesser income. The Child Support Guidelines consider factors such as the difference in the parent’s incomes, how many children each parent supports, and how much time the children spend with each parent overnight per year. If a parent is unemployed or underemployed, a court may impute the income the parent could be earning when calculating their child support obligation. Imputing income simply means assigning a parent an income they may not necessarily be making at the time. Imputing income can be hotly contested issue that is not straightforward. This is a specific issue where a New Jersey child support lawyer can give crucial guidance.
According to N.J.S.A. § 2A: 17-56.67, parents typically must provide financial support until the child dies, marries, joins the military, or turns 19. However, child support might continue until age 23 if the child is a full-time student. Additionally, some form of financial maintenance could be paid even longer if the child is disabled. There are several other less common circumstances that could lead to continued child support payments, and a New Jersey attorney could explain their implications in a specific case.
Procedure When Parents Are Not Married
When a child is born to unwed parents, they can voluntarily sign a Certificate of Parentage (COP) at the hospital. This document establishes the mother and father as the legal parents of the child, adds the father’s name to the child’s birth certificate, and bestows all the legal rights and obligations of parenthood, including the obligation of financial support. If the parents do not sign the COP when the child is born, they have 300 days after the birth to do so.
When a father has not signed a COP and disputes paternity, a mother seeking child support must bring a court action. A judge will order the man and child to take a genetic test. If this test indicates a 95 percent likelihood of paternity, the man will be named the legal father and be required to pay child support. An attorney could help a parent bring or defend an action to establish paternity in a child support case. The inverse also applies to establishing maternity if the father is seeking to establish a woman as the child’s biological mother to obtain child support from her.
Parents Can Negotiate Child Support Arrangements
The Child Support Guidelines produce a minimum child support payment that would be determined by the Court, but many child support arrangements do not reflect the formula amount exactly. There is room for parents to negotiate higher payments or for a parent to assume additional obligations. There is also room to negotiate for lower payments if the child is being provided for financially in other ways unique to the child and parents.
The basic child support formula under the Child Support Guidelines covers necessities like food, shelter, clothing, and transportation. Higher child support amounts are common when accounting for the additional costs of the children’s extracurricular activities, special educational or healthcare needs, and similar extraordinary expenses. Parents sometimes will assume responsibility for a college fund in addition to their share of child support.
Child support is part of a parenting plan, and the amount of support the Child Support Guidelines require depends on how much overnight parenting time each parent receives. A lawyer can help parents in New Jersey establish their preferred custody arrangement and use that arrangement to calculate child support, including provisions for any extra costs.
Different Rules May Apply to High-and Low Income Parents
The Child Support Guidelines provide a reasonable figure for most families, but not all. Child support payments should not leave parents unable to support themselves. Courts will sometimes approve a child support amount lower than the formula provides if the standard formula amount would cause the paying parent financial hardship by reducing them to poverty. In these circumstances, the paying parent must present proof that they do not have the means to pay the amount determined by the Guidelines. This can be a high bar to meet.
On the other hand, children should not experience a marked decline in their standard of living because their parents choose to live separately. A court could award a child support amount higher than that provided under the Guidelines so that the children can continue to live in the same neighborhood, attend the same schools, and participate in the same activities as they did before their parents separated. It is also important to note that a prenuptial agreement cannot in any way predetermine the child support obligations that either spouse would have if the marriage ends in divorce because New Jersey law says that the needs and best interests of a child cannot be determined in advance.
Should the noncustodial parent make a very high income, that person may not necessarily have to pay the same percentage of their net income to the custodial parent as someone with a lower income would. New Jersey courts typically make decisions on child support based on how much the child needs to live comfortably and not necessarily based on how much money the noncustodial parent could theoretically afford to provide. Speak with a New Jersey child support lawyer to learn more about how the State handles child support for people with high or low incomes.
Best Interests of the Child
In all family law cases involving children, the best interest of the child is the crucial factor considered by the courts. The issues that courts tend to look at include the medical, psychological, or educational needs of the child; the income of the custodial parent; variations of parents’ income based on the season; or any other relevant or unusual circumstances.
Judges review child support arrangements even when parents agree on a negotiated amount. Sometimes, parents believe what is best for them is also best for their children, but judges do not look at child support issues that way. The court will not allow the parents to decide on child support unless their decision is congruent with the court’s understanding of the children’s best interests. An attorney could help parents in New Jersey prepare evidence demonstrating how their ideal child support plan aligns with a child’s best interests.
Process for Paying and Receiving Child Support
A court’s child support order typically stipulates that payments be deducted from the paying parent’s wages or other income and paid to the New Jersey Family Support Payment Center (NJFSPC). The NJFSPC then distributes the payments to the receiving parent through paper checks, direct deposits, or a Visa debit card.
This system has two advantages: It avoids a situation where parents hand over money in person, which could cause stress and discord, and it allows the State to track payments. When there is a dispute, the State has a record establishing whether a payment was made or missed. This is why it is important for anyone ordered to pay child support through the NJFSPC because any direct payments probably will not be credited to them.
Parents are free to bypass the NJFSPC, but they must have a written agreement concerning their alternative payment arrangement. A judge could also impose an alternative payment arrangement but must state their reasons for doing so. A legal professional with experience handling a variety of child support cases in New Jersey can help parents understand and decide on a payment system that works for their circumstances.
Contesting Child Support Orders
Challenges can arise when determining child support or when it comes time to start collecting payments. The amount of income someone earns is often disputed. This is especially true for parents who are self-employed, have a lot of investment income, are paid by commission or in cash, whose income varies substantially on a seasonal basis, or who are compensated in non-traditional ways such as via stock options.
A parent can seek a modification of a child support order if they can demonstrate a substantial, involuntary, and permanent change in their financial circumstances since the court’s last order. The change could be evidence of previously hidden income, proof that a receiving parent is not providing the children with necessities, or a life change such as a new baby, a lost job, or a disability. A New Jersey child support attorney can explain these concepts in more detail during an initial consultation.
Talk To a New Jersey Child Support Attorney Today
The legal and financial questions raised by child support disputes are intricate. Add the emotional issues that arise in any sort of family law matter, and you have the makings of a highly complex situation.
Thankfully, a practiced New Jersey child support lawyer has the legal knowledge and experience to handle these issues and can aggressively defend your rights at every stage of your divorce or child support proceedings. Contact your local attorney today to see what options are available to you.