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Important Changes in Child Support Guidelines

How the recent revisions potentially effect your current support amount and may justify a modification of child support.

The payment of child support is a necessary aspect of all family law matters where the parties are the parents of unemancipated children. In a majority of cases, the New Jersey Child Support Guidelines govern the amount of child support that is to be paid by the non-custodial parent to the custodial parent. For many parents, however, once an initial determination as to support is made, unless child support is paid through the Probation Department which collects and dispenses the child support payments and, every few years, may perform a Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA), the amount paid remains the same for years, often at the child's expense and despite the fact that an increase or decrease may be warranted.

Either parent has the right to seek an adjustment of the child support amount based upon a change of circumstances. A change of circumstances can result from an increase or decrease in wages by either party, the elimination of an alimony obligation, a change in the overnight schedule, etc. In reality, based upon the fact that most people, over a period of years, receive raises and increased earnings, after two to three years the child support payment is likely unsuitable.

The gap between what a parent is paying by way of child support and what should be paid by way of the current guidelines has become, potentially, even more glaringly significant as a result of the recent revision to the child support guidelines.

Every few years, the Schedule of Child Support Awards, which determines the Total Child Support Amount to be divided between the parents based upon their percentage share of the combined net income, reduced by the Adjustment for Parenting Time Expenses, is revised. The most recent revision went into effect on September 1, 2013, with significant implications and deviations from the previous schedule of support.

By way of example, assuming a combined net income of $2,000 per week, the total amount of child support to be divided between the parents was, under the old Schedule, $325.00 per week for one child and $431.00 per week for two children, with the amounts increasing incrementally (albeit not proportionally) up to six children. Under the new Schedule of Child Support Awards, effective September 1, 2013, the total amount of child support to be divided between parents of one child with a combined net income of $2,000 per week is $338.00 per week and between the parents of two children is $374.00 per week. Clearly, depending on the number of children, either the custodial or non-custodial parent is benefitting from having the support paid pursuant to the previous Schedule.

Furthermore, depending upon the combined net income, the differences become even starker. For example, at the top of the Schedule, for parents with a combined net income of $3,600 per week, the old Schedule called for a combined obligation of $453.00 per week for one child and $606.00 per week for two children, whereas the new schedule calls for a combined obligation of $571.00 for one child and $589.00 for two children.

While the rationale behind the sizeable change in child support amounts can be questioned, especially as it relates to the significant diminishing of the differentials between one and two children the occurs as the parents combined net income increases (i.e., for parents with a combined net income of $3,600 per week, the guidelines seem to indicate that the incremental cost of having a second child is only $17.00 per week, which is rather absurd and/or indicates that the support is overstated for the first child), the reality is that until the Schedule is reviewed and revised again, which will not occur for quite a few years as the most recent revision went into effect six (6) years after the previous schedule went into effect, parents are beholden to the new amounts.

For many parents, therefore, the change in the Schedule, coupled with a change in earnings, could lead to significant adjustments to the child support obligations of the non-custodial parent. However, the change is not uniform throughout the number of children and the combined net incomes, so the specific circumstances for each set of parents will create different results and changes. As a result, it would be wise to contact a family law/divorce attorney to determine whether it would be prudent to seek an adjustment to the non-custodial parent's child support obligation and, as evidenced above, depending upon the number of children and the combined net income, the change can benefit either the custodial or non-custodial parent.

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