If you and your spouse have made the decision to end your marriage, determining who is going to have custody of the children and who is going to be responsible for child support payments are among the most important issues that will need to be resolved. This can be a complicated and emotional process, particularly if you are going through a bitter and contentious divorce. However, it is in the best interest of your children if you are able to set your differences aside and reach a custody and child support agreement that works for your family and that prioritizes the needs of your children. A skilled child custody lawyer will work closely with you to negotiate a child support agreement that will secure the best possible outcome for you and your children.
What Is Child Support?
Child support ensures that a child or children are supported financially after a divorce. The amount depends primarily on the parents’ income and the amount of time that the child spends with each parent. If the parents are unable to work out a child support agreement amicably, the courts will intervene and determine the amount that should be paid and by whom. Child support payments cover a range of expenses, including shelter, food, clothing, education, medical bills, transportation and other costs. In most cases, child support payments will continue until the child reaches the age of 18. However, if the child has special needs, the payments may continue until the child turns 21. Parents who do not comply with a child support order may face serious consequences, including intercepting a tax refund, having property seized, and even a jail sentence.
What Child Support Considerations Should I Keep in Mind?
Every divorce is unique, which means that there is no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to custody agreements and child support responsibilities. Whether you and your spouse are going to share custody of the children, or one of you will have sole custody, keep the following considerations in mind as you work towards reaching an agreement:
- Child support payments can be modified. Child support payments are based on a number of factors, including both parents’ income, the number of children in the family and the percentage of time that each parent will be spending with the children. The calculation always considers the need for support, and what is best for the child or children. If the financial circumstances of one or both of the parents changes, the child support payments may be modified. For example, if a parent loses their job, becomes disabled, or inherits a significant amount of money, the change in financial status would warrant a modification to the child support agreement. Depending on the circumstances, the parents may need to return to court to modify the child support arrangement.
- Child support takes precedence over spousal support. Oftentimes, the spouse that receives spousal support also collects child support payments. Child support has priority over spousal support, which means that if the court determines that circumstances warrant a reduction in child support payments, spousal support will also be reduced.
- Child support payments are not taxed. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 states that child support payments are not taxed as they are outside the tax system for the recipient and the payor. That means that the recipient is not taxed on the child support payments that he or she receives, and the payor may not deduct payments from their taxes. For tax purposes, a child may only be claimed as a dependent by one parent. In most cases, the parent who has sole custody or has physical custody for the majority of the year takes the tax exemption. The parents may trade exemption from year to year by filing an additional form. Exemptions may also be divided if the couple has more than one child. In order to claim the exemption, the child or children must live with one of the parents for more than half of the year.
How Are Child Support Payments Determined?
Child support agreements are always based on what is in the child’s best interests. However, the New Jersey courts will also take the following factors into consideration when determining the terms of a child support agreement:
- The child’s needs
- The economic circumstances of both parents
- The family’s standard of living prior to the divorce
- The number of children living in the household
- Both spouse’s earning capacity and level of education
- Whether the child is currently employed and if they have an income of their own
- Any other factors that the New Jersey courts consider to be relevant to the case
Am I Eligible to Receive Child Support Payments Before the Divorce is Finalized?
The divorce process can take time, particularly when there are custody and child support details that need to be worked out. If you are separated, and you have spent that past decade raising your children as a full-time stay-at-home parent, you may need access to spousal support and child support before your divorce is finalized. You may be able to obtain these payments by taking the following steps:
- Discuss your case with a child custody lawyer. In addition to providing valuable advice about how to proceed with spousal and child support, your child custody lawyer may recommend pendente lite alimony, or pendente lite child support, which is financial support provided by your spouse while the divorce is still pending. Like child support and spousal support, this will be based on your incomes, the ages of your children and your current need for financial support.
- Collect important documents. If you plan to proceed with a pendente lite motion, you will need to complete a Case Information Statement, which is a financial accounting document. This provides the court with a general idea of your finances as a couple. This should include information about income, household expenses, children’s expenses, assets and debts. If you are awarded pendente lite support, it is meant to provide financial assistance while the divorce is being finalized. The amount that you receive could change upon the final judgment of divorce.
- Discuss your financial future. Oftentimes, when the marital property is being divided, it is common that one of the spouses may have an emotional attachment to the family home. As a result, he or she may want to keep the home, without having a realistic idea of the expenses involved with maintaining the property. It is highly recommended that you discuss your financial situation with your child custody lawyer, including your income, the support you will be receiving, tips for budgeting and planning for the future, as well as your goals for retirement.
- Consider seeking employment. Your pendente lite support may change once the divorce is final, and your spousal support may not be permanent due to New Jersey law that went into effect in 2014. If you have work experience or an advanced degree, the court may expect you to return to the workforce as soon as possible, even if you were a stay-at-home parent for a number of years. You may also want to consider taking classes, or getting job training as you plan to seek employment.
- Try to resolve your issues amicably. Ideally, you and your spouse can set your differences aside enough to resolve your financial issues and come up with a child support agreement that is in the best interest of your children. A mediator can serve as a neutral party, who can work with you to reach a resolution as quickly and painlessly as possible. If your divorce is particularly contentious, your attorneys will help you work through your issues to reach the best possible settlement and child support agreement.
When Do Child Support Payments Stop?
In most cases, children are considered fully emancipated from their parents when they reach the age of 19, although there are some circumstances where child support payment may be extended. For example, if the child is attending college, the payment may continue until he or she reaches the age of 23. In addition, if the child has a disability or medical condition, a request for an extension may be made. A child may be emancipated from the child support order before the age of 19 if the following applies:
- The child no longer lives with their parents.
- The child enlisted in the military.
- The child is financially independent and has a full-time job.
- The child is married.
- The child is pregnant or has children of their own.
Somerville Child Custody Lawyers at Lyons & Associates, P.C. Assist Clients with Child Support Issues
If you are in the process of a divorce, and you have questions or concerns about custody and child support payment, contact our Somerville child custody lawyers at Lyons & Associates, P.C. To schedule a free, confidential consultation, call us today at 908-575-9777 or contact us online. Our offices are located in Somerville, New Jersey and Morristown, New Jersey, where we service clients throughout the state, including, but not limited to those residing in Bedminster, Parsippany, Rockaway, Short Hills, Chatham, Randolph, Madison, Morris Plains, Bridgewater, Woodbridge, Basking Ridge, Menham, Morristown, South Plainfield, Somerset, across Somerset County, Morris County, Union County and throughout New Jersey.