Child Support in New Jersey

How is child support determined in New Jersey?

Child support in New Jersey is governed by statutory factors to be considered, focused on the child’s needs and the parents’ respective abilities to contribute financially to those needs. These factors are taken into account in the New Jersey Child Support Guidelines, which have been in effect since the mid-1980s. The federal government requires all states to have numerical, and not just written, factors to provide guidance to parents when they and their children are no longer intact families.

 

What are the New Jersey child support guidelines?

By federal law, all states must have numerical guidelines, and the result in most New Jersey cases is driven primarily by the parents’ incomes and how many overnights the children stay with each. All the relevant information is put into a grid and the calculations are made. Although the result is presumed to be correct, there are also circumstances where this presumption can be rebutted, or overcome, such as for children with special needs or incomes of their own, i.e., child actors. Although use of the guidelines is mandatory in all cases, the grid applies only where the parents’ combined incomes net of tax is $187,200 per year or less. For higher income cases, the guidelines are calculated up to that limit, then increased based on the statutory factors. This can be subject to what is known as “The Three Pony Rule”: no child needs more than three ponies.

 

When is a child considered to be emancipated in New Jersey?

In New Jersey a child is deemed emancipated, and therefore no child support obligation is due, when that child has “moved beyond the sphere of parental influence”. The legal presumption is that this is at age 18, but as with other issues, this presumption can be rebutted or overcome. Emancipation can occur at any age, particularly after a child is 18 years old or older, but there is no set age under New Jersey law when this happens automatically, and some children, such as those with special needs, may never be emancipated. Divorce settlement agreements commonly include a section defining the events that trigger emancipation, such as completion of four years of post-high school education, marriage, entry into the armed forces or, the ultimate emancipation event, the child’s death.

 

What happens to child support in New Jersey when a child attends college?

The New Jersey child support numerical guidelines do not apply to children over age 18 unless they have not yet graduated from high school, or are attending a post-high school educational institution as a commuter student, still living at the home of the parent receiving child support. If a child over age 18 is attending a post-high school educational institution and living there, child support is set taking into account not only the parents’ incomes and how many overnights that child stays at the home of the parent receiving child support, but also the cost of the child’s attendance at that institution and the financial contributions each parent is making to payment of those costs.

Pamela Copeland is well-versed in this area of the law, having been a member of the New Jersey State Bar Association Family Law Section’s Committee on Child Support Guidelines when they were first instituted. She also was appointed to the New Jersey Supreme Court Commission on Child Support Enforcement, whose recommendations for reform were accepted in their totality by the New Jersey Supreme Court and implemented in the Family Court system.