Child support is not just a legal obligation, it is an integral part of retaining healthy, sustainable relationships between parents and children following a divorce. Making payments creates strong bonds and offers additional support to separated families. It should also help parents manage situations together, with or without shared child custody arrangements.
Child support arrangements usually stem from the initial divorce or separation proceedings, which allows parents to determine how much should be paid from one side to the other to help the child maintain their existing quality of life. The amount paid is usually subject to change, as some states like New Jersey will increase the award every two years to adjust for cost-of-living increases.
Federal law also mandates a review of child support every three years. This is automatic for those receiving Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, while other cases require one parent to demand a reconsideration. Unlike the cost-of-living adjustment (COLA), reviews do not guarantee a change in award.
What Gets Considered When Determining Child Support Amounts?
There is no uniform way to determine child support awards. Each state has a different process or formula to calculate monthly payments. New Jersey bases their system around gross income, mandatory expenses like rent and taxes, the child’s costs of health care, education, and other necessities, along with other constant expenses.
Judges have substantial leeway in determining awards by using deviations provided in established divorce laws. The objective is usually to at least maintain the affected child’s standard of living enjoyed before the separation. Courts will ask parents to submit forms with financial information backed by evidence, like pay stubs and bills, to determine current situations and how to proceed.
How can a Parent Modify Child Support?
Either parent can file a motion with the court to modify child support payments. However, that party must cite changed circumstances as reason for the request. These changes must be permanent, significant, and unanticipated when the original agreement took effect. These could range from a work-related injury, new marriage, or another event that affects income.
The parent seeking the relief must be able to show this with proof once the event happens, not in anticipation of something happening in the near future. If the request satisfies the legal requirements, the judge will request the other parent submit financial information to the courts in response to the motion.
The paperwork for filing the motion should include a copy of the original agreement, copies of prior and current proceedings or statements, financial documentation, affidavits to support the claims, legal briefs to show prior usage of the attempted arguments, and any other pertinent supporting information. In these instances, it is best to provide as much information as possible, especially if has been requested or accepted by the court in prior proceedings.
What Does the Judge Consider When Adjusting Child Support?
The presiding judge will go over some factors to decide on adjusting the award in addition to the paying parent’s ability to make a higher payment:
- The standard of living, economic situation, and financial needs of each parent.
- The needs of the child.
- All forms of income for each parent.
- All debts and liabilities for each parent.
- The age and health of the child and each parent.
- The education, current and future, of the child, including the likelihood of higher education.
- The responsibility of parents for the court-ordered support of other individuals.
- The earning ability of each parent, including educational background, training, employment skills, work experience, and custodial responsibilities.
- Other pertaining factors.
The court will usually base modifications, along with any original agreements, on the obligor’s ability to earn. If an obligor is unemployed or underemployed for resolvable reasons, the judge can mandate that person find better work to increase payment ability. Employment potential usually gets decided on education level, work qualifications, previous employment, local wage expectations, and local job opportunities. Attempts to earn less to minimize payment obligations will not be tolerated.
There are some protections for obligors from unreasonable expectations. That party can request a decrease in payment if there has been a job loss or health crisis that adversely affecting work opportunities. Some states may also allow parents to reduce their obligations if pursuing higher education, especially when seeking increased earning potential.
Parents, depending upon their relationship, can attempt to negotiate changes to child support on their own. However, this usually also requires approval from a judge to take effect. States may vary on specific circumstances, but these are some of the more common situations that lead to child support modifications being granted:
- A change in the child’s needs.
- A child’s medical emergency.
- The paying parent’s temporary inability to pay due to a medical emergency or loss of job.
- The recipient parent’s temporary economic or medical hardship.
- Either parent’s disability.
- Either parent’s employment change.
- Either parent’s change in income due to remarriage.
Approval From a Judge
If pursuing a new arrangement outside of court, it is necessary to get final approval from the judge assigned to the case. Failure to do so will void the independent agreement and could cause the obligor to owe a large amount of unpaid support, which can cause additional legal problems.
Should the relations sour, the paid parent can also go after the payer for the extra money and have substantial legal leverage. Conversely, New Jersey does not allow for the retroactive modification of payments, so any deal made without a judge’s approval cannot be enforced for prior months. This could mean the obligee may have to return the higher amounts to the obligor if the agreement goes awry and disagreement occurs.
If the garnishment of wages is involved in the procurement of child support, that cannot be altered without a judge’s order. Attempting to compensate or circumvent this process can create a new series of problems for both parties that may go beyond the realm of family court.
Judges are not obligated to accept a new award amount without input. Usually, an increase tends to receive favorable consideration with little resistance. However, asking for a substantial decrease in payment almost always requires extensive documentation and reasoning to receive approval.
Does Remarriage Change Child Support Payments?
One of the major reasons to request a modification of child support is one of the parties involved gets remarried. Sometimes, that will come with new children in the new relationship, or the new marriage may produce new children. If the obligor remarries, it might lead to an increase in child support. If the obligee remarries, that usually leads to a decrease in payment as there is now a second income in the child’s main residence.
Child support payments end when the child in question turns 18 years old and is no longer in school. If the child continues into college, payments still may be needed to cover costs. Emancipation of a child can also terminate child support, but this is a rare occurrence.
Joint custody also can affect how much a parent must pay in child support, as expenses incurred during visits can affect awards. Each state will consider those overnights and weekend custodies differently.
Morristown Divorce Lawyers at Lyons & Associates, P.C. Help Resolve Child Support Modification Arguments
Family court can be daunting, and emotional situations can derail productive negotiations. There are a lot of specific rules and nuances that can be missed by the untrained individual. It always helps to have a trusted partner by your side to advocate for your position and protect your interests. The Morristown divorce lawyers at Lyons & Associates, P.C. have the experience to handle your case. Call us at 908-575-9777 or contact us online to schedule an initial consultation today. Located in Somerville and Morristown, New Jersey, we serve clients throughout Somerset, Woodbridge, Morristown, Parsippany, Rockaway, Short Hills, Chatham, Randolph, Madison, and Morris Plains.