Whenever there is a divorce involving children or a couple who were never married but have children in common separate, the issue of child support needs to be addressed. Generally, the parent who receives child support feels it is not enough money and the parent paying child support feels it is too much. Part of the reason that they feel this way is that they do not really understand what child support is or how it is calculated.
Here are seven things you should know about child support.
- All children are entitled to financial support from their parents. Every child who is unemancipated has the right to have their parents provide for their financial needs. This is money for their housing, food, clothing, personal care, etc.
- Child support is determined using the Child Support Guidelines. For most families, the court uses the Child Support Guidelines to determine the fair amount of support for the child. The Guidelines uses a formula to calculate child support based on the parents’ incomes. The support amount is then divided with each parent contributing based on their respective incomes. Parents can deviate from the Guidelines for good cause. In cases where the parents are high-income wage earners, the Guidelines are used to provide a base amount of child support. After this is calculated, the court will look at the children’s expenses to set a child support amount that fits in with the family’s lifestyle.
- The Child Support Guidelines does not cover everything. Some expenses are considered “outside of the Guidelines.” This can be things like private school costs and some extra-curricular activities. Automobile insurance for teenage drivers can be another expense that falls outside of the guidelines. There is not a list that spells out every single expense that is not covered in the guidelines, so if you have questions you should consult with a lawyer.
- Child support does not automatically terminate at 18. Other states emancipate children once they turn 18. Here in New Jersey, children are not automatically emancipated when they reach 18. Instead, emancipation is dependent upon whether the child is attending school full-time or if they have graduated from high school and are not going to college. If a child enters the military or marries, they may also be emancipated.
- Child support can be modified if there is a change in circumstances. When a parent loses a job, it does not mean that child support is automatically reduced. The expectation is that the loss of employment is a temporary change. If a parent becomes unemployed because of an illness or disability, or there is some other significant change, the court can recalculate the support to take into consideration the change in income. Child support may also be modified in circumstances such as the birth of a child from a different relationship or a child receiving government benefits.
- Child support can be paid by wage garnishment or directly. Many parents opt to have child support paid through the Probation Department by way of wage garnishment. There are advantages to this method: there is a record of payments being made, probation will calculate any arrears, probation can act to enforce support if it is not being paid. Some parents who have a good relationship have payments made directly. In those cases, there is often a default that if payments are missed or late that Probation will be utilized to collect future support payments.
- Probation can act to enforce child support. Parents who do not pay support in accordance with a child support order are subject to enforcement action. Probation can bring the parent before a judge and ask for such remedies as: wage garnishment, suspension of the parent’s driver’s license, the capture of an income tax refund or even incarceration.
If you have questions you do not see addressed above, you should speak to an experienced family law attorney. You can schedule a consultation by calling the office or by clicking on this link.