Thursday, July 19, 2012
Calculating child support in New Jersey–or any state–can be complicated. Generally, in New Jersey, the court takes eight steps to calculate child support. New Jersey Child Support Guidelines intend to predict the cost of raising a child based on the parents’ incomes and setting an equitable amount.
Step 1- Determining the Income of Both Parents: Just about any type of income you receive or earn can be considered to calculate child support. Even things like lottery winnings, unemployment benefits, money from illegal activities and overtime earnings can be considered. Usually, however, welfare benefits or other money given to the needy or disabled may not be included in the calculation of the parents’ income.
If one parent does not work but has the ability to work, then the court will impute (meaning assign) a certain income amount to that parent by figuring out how much that parent is capable of earning. Then the court will use that figure to calculate child support.
Step 2- Taxes and Deductions: The only deductions that can be made on your income for determining child support are those that you cannot control like Social Security Tax, Medicare, and state taxes. After taxes and deductions, if any, are removed, you will have each parent’s net income. You may have other deductions on your paycheck, such as disability insurance or voluntary retirement contributions, but those amounts will be added back into income for the purpose of calculating support.
Step 3- Determine Combined Net Income: After taxes and deductions are taken out, both parent’s incomes are added together, resulting in the combined net income. The parents’ combined net income is put into a “pot.” The court then looks at the statutory Guidelines chart for the number of children in the family and the amount of money that is in the “pot.” That number on the chart is the basic child support award.
Step 4- Splitting the Child Support Award: If the parents have the same net income, then they split the amount in the chart equally. In most cases, one parent earns more then the other so it is usually split 60/40 or 70/30. If one parent is disabled or on welfare, then that may shift the burden onto the other parent to pay the full amount.
Step 5- Adjustments Based on Visitation and Shared Parenting: A special deduction can be calculated for the parent who pays support if he or she has custody of the children for a significant number of days.
Step 6- Add-On Expenses and Special Deductions: If a family has expenses like child care or health insurance for the children, those expenses are added to the child support award and split the same way as the amount from the Guidelines chart. Some special deductions, like one parent paying child support for other children or paying alimony to a previous spouse, can be deducted, but this deviation may be discretionary based on the individual situation.
Step 7- Poverty and Shared-Parenting Income Tests: Paying child support should not make a parent “poor” and unable to take care of himself or herself. The Guidelines have specific tests built in that can help keep a parent from paying too much. However, the tests always favor the children and make sure that the parent who has the children most of the time is receiving enough money to take care of them. Your income must truly be in the poverty range to affect your child support.
Step 8- The Final Child Support Order: After all the steps are taken for deductions, the resulting amount is the amount of child support to be paid. If the parents, lawyers, or court want to use a different amount, they must give a reason why they are differing from the Guidelines. In New Jersey, child support is paid through “Probation,” an agency that deducts the support from the wages of the Payor parent and turns the money over to the Payee parent.
If you have questions about calculating child support or about child support you are currently paying, you should consult with an attorney. Child support calculations, even though we have guidelines, can be very fact specific.
Written by Allyson Lutley, law clerk at the Law Offices of Linda A. Kerns, LLC. Edited by Linda A. Kerns, Esquire.