If you are going through the difficult process of a New Jersey divorce and have minor children, you may be struggling to understand the process for determining child custody and support payments. New Jersey looks to both statutory guidance (what the laws say) and judicial discretion (what the court thinks is best) to determine what is fair and best for your situation.
Custody and visitation
Custody and visitation schedules are determined by New Jersey courts, based on the “best interests” of a child. In making a decision, a court will examine each parent’s character and characteristics and determine what arrangement can best support the safety, health, happiness, and general welfare of the children. Changes in your household such as the introduction of new family members, relocation, or changes in your financial stability can be the basis for a modification of existing custody or visitation arrangements.
The amount of child support exchanged between separated parents is set by New Jersey statutes, the sole parenting guidelines (between a custodial and non-custodial parent) and the shared parenting guidelines (between parents who share custody more equally). These guidelines set the amount of monthly child support a noncustodial parent must pay based on the yearly income and parental obligations of the parents. Changes to your household situation, such as one parent adding additional dependents or wanting to change custody and visitation agreements, may result in changes to the calculation of child support payments.
The statutory guidelines help the court determine the amount of money it will take to raise your child or children depending on their ages (covering birth-17 years or the completion of high school, generally), the income of both parents (the guidelines assume that as income increases, the cost to raise children also increases), and other factors such as recurring health care expenses, childcare costs, etc. The cost is then divided between the parents in proportion to their respective incomes.
The New Jersey Child Support Guidelines apply to parties whose combined net incomes are greater than $170/week ($8,840/year) and less than $3,600/week ($187,200/year). They are fairly strictly applied, unless the court finds unusual cause to raise or lower the amounts they calculate for your situation.
Discretion of the court
In circumstances where parents’ combined incomes are higher or lower than the amounts covered by the statutory guidelines, and in otherwise determining whether the guideline amounts should be modified for good cause, the court will determine what is fair for each party based upon factors including
- The needs of the child
- The standard of living and economic circumstances of each parent
- All sources of income and assets of each parent
- The earning ability of each parent, including educational background, training, employment skills, and work experience
- The length of time and cost of each parent to obtain training or experience for appropriate employment
- Custodial responsibility for children, including the cost of providing child care
- The need and capacity of the child for education, including higher education
- The age and health of the child and each parent
- The income, assets, and earning ability of the child
- Responsibility of the parents for the court-ordered support of others
- The reasonable debts and liabilities of each child and parent, and
- Any other factors the court may deem relevant.
The statutory “sole support guidelines” presume that a child lives in only one household. If a child spends at least 104 overnights per year with the "non-custodial" parent (every weekend or the equivalent), the court may find that there is a “shared parenting” situation rather than a “sole custody” situation. In this case, the parties must prepare and file a parenting plan with the court that sets the parenting time and responsibilities for each parent.
If a child spends more or less time than the sole support guidelines assume with the non-custodial parent, that parent’s costs for the child will increase or decrease, and the custodial parent's costs will change as well. Thus, if the court determines that there is a shared parenting situation, it will use the statutory “shared parenting guidelines” and its discretion to evaluate situational factors to guide its decisions about appropriate support. Ensuring you are represented by an attorney experienced in this process can protect your rights to support and visitation.
If you need help negotiating or modifying child custody or support payments, call the experienced New Jersey family lawyers at the Mark Law Firm. We have three convenient locations, so whether you live in Summit or Warren, Berkeley Heights or Westfield, we’re just around the corner! Contact us to make an appointment to talk with one of our Newark, Oradell or Basking Ridge family lawyers today.
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