When a judge calculates the amount of child support that a parent must pay for a child, many different expenses are factored into that calculation. Certainly things like food, clothing and shelter are included, but additional items such as transportation and entertainment area also considered. Sometimes there are additional expenses that a child can incur that are not necessarily contemplated when base child support payments are calculated. The Guidelines are written in such a way that judges are allowed the discretion to make adjustments to the level of support if necessary on a case-by-case basis, and a judge did so in a recent child support case holding that a parent may need to pay additional child support in NJ if the supported child is especially gifted or talented in the field of the arts.
P.S. v. J.S.
In the November 2016 case of P.S. v. J.S., the judge dealt with the question of whether the child in question should be considered “gifted” and thus have the child support her parent pays increased to provide additional money in order to pay for the expenses required to pursue her talent.
The parents in that case were in a dispute about the payment of expenses related to her acting activities. The Plaintiff currently pays the Defendant $113 per week in child support. The dispute here is that the Defendant wants the Plaintiff to pay additional funds as child support to help cover the cost of all extracurricular activities, “including but not limited to theater-related costs.” The Plaintiff objects to paying the additional support, arguing that those costs are already included in the child support that he pays.
Entertainment Costs – Covered By Guidelines
In general, guideline-level child support in NJ factors in the cost of entertainment expenses. Those expenses include things like fees for membership to sports activities, pets, video games, and recreational or social events. The Guidelines have an additional provision that allows for a court to add additional child support funds to pay for the costs associated with the development and special needs of a “gifted” child.
Child Support in NJ – Who Is “Gifted”?
The Child Support Guidelines do not define what a “gifted” child is, and the judge in this case points out that the term can be vague and broad. The court finds that there are four general areas of giftedness: academics; athletics; technology and the arts. While the first three categories have the benefit of data to backup a claim of giftedness (test scores, statistics, etc.), the judge explains that the arts are much more subjective. The judge in a case such as this can not be the sole arbiter of whether a child’s art is “good” or “not good” in order to make a determination of whether the child is gifted.
The judge noted that a parent may hire an expert in the field in question to testify as to whether his or her child is considered gifted, but that hiring such an expert is impractical since the cost would likely be more than the amount of additional support in dispute, and there is no guarantee that the expert will have an opinion that is any more valid than that of the court.
In this case, based on interviews with the child, the court found that the child was gifted based on, “…her inherently extraordinary drive, desire, focus and commitment to act and perform on stage at her young age in the first place.” It is noteworthy that the judge in this case goes on for some length in the opinion to expound on the drive, determination, and genuine love that the child seems to have for acting.
So, in the case of P.S. v. J.S., the court found that the child was in fact “gifted” as an actress; and that as such additional funds could be added to her child support to help pay for the costs associated with her acting.
Amount of Additional Child Support for a Gifted Child
Once decided that a child qualifies as “gifted” for child support purposes, the court must determine an appropriate level of additional support to be paid by the parents towards the expenses of the child’s pursuit of his or her gift. The opinion in this case is quick to point out that a ruling of this type should not put the parents in a difficult financial position. To this point, the judge writes that “no matter how gifted a child may be, no parent should be compelled to spend more than he or she can reasonably afford.“ The child’s gifts or talents should only be financially supported to an “economically reasonable” extent given the financial position of the parents.
In this case, the judge found that the costs incurred for the benefit of the child’s gift may be several hundred dollars per year, and may include things like clothing, travel, coaching, and makeup. The judge found that each parent should contribute $250 per year toward the child’s acting expenses.
The judge placed a caution in the opinion of this case for those paying child support in NJ who may think that the ruling allows them to request additional funds for activities that their child enjoys. The Court emphasized that this case does not mean that a parent must pay additional support for some activity that a child likes. There is a distinction between an extracurricular activity and a talent or gift. In fact, the court here denied part of the Defendant’s request for payment of half of all “extracurricular activities” because those are already taken into consideration by the base child support payment. The judge also cautioned that cases like these must be decided on a case-by-case basis with special attention paid to the individual circumstances of the child and the parents’ ability to pay additional support for the child.
If you need assistance with the payment of additional child support in NJ, call the Law Office of Peter Van Aulen today for a free initial consultation to discuss the best options for your particular case.