The child support guidelines of New Jersey are designed to provide consistency and certainty in family law matters. There is sometimes conflict between the parents, particularly if the parent paying child support believes that the recipient spouse is using that child support for frivolous things, like shopping trips or vacations. But the truth is, if the recipient parent is covering the essentials and expenses required by law, they can spend their money on whatever else they want. So, what does child support cover in NJ?
This question is basically asking, what does the child support I receive (or pay) cover, and what should be the other party’s responsibility to cover? It is important to understand what does child support cover in NJ to appropriately budget and ensure the child is taken care of. The guidelines apply to parents who earn a combined net income of up to $187,200.00. Any couples who exceed this amount will still have the guidelines applied, but an additional amount can be added, depending on multiple factors set forth under the child support statute.
Of course, child support covers the basics: food, clothing, and shelter are of course non-negotiable expenses when raising children. Food should be healthy and keep the children at an appropriate weight, but it does not necessarily allow regular meals at a fancy steak restaurant (unless the lifestyle of the child prior to the divorce incorporated these kinds of meals with some frequency). That is because if the parents can afford it, the court will consider the lifestyle to which the child had been accustomed to prior to the dissolution of the marriage when rendering child support orders. Clothing is another expense included in the calculation – which is a huge category. Clothing includes shoes, diapers, winter clothing, and accessories. It also includes maintenance of the clothing, such as cleaning sports uniforms or dance costumes. However, sports footwear is not included in the calculation. Shelter includes everything from the mortgage, rental payments, and utilities to keep a comfortable roof over the head of the children. If you are starting to think that some of these expenses are arbitrary, you would be correct. That’s why the question, ‘what does child support cover in NJ’ is so commonly asked by parents involved in a family law matter.
Transportation is part of the inquiry of what does child support cover in NJ. This means any costs associated with owning or leasing a car, maintenance, and repairs, and even things like public transportation are part of this calculation. However, this does not include a car used primarily by the child. Healthcare for the child up to a point is included. Any unreimbursed health care expenses up to $250 each year per child are part of the calculation. This includes things like co-pays, non-prescription drugs or other medical products. And of course, entertainment for the kids like extracurricular activities, video games and hobbies are all part and parcel of the equation.
This last category – extracurricular activities – can be a major bone of contention for parents, especially as schools and communities continue to get hit with government cutbacks. So, the activities that child support is intended to cover has often become too expensive for the basic guidelines. In many cases, the court will categorize these as ‘extraordinary expenses,’ and add them to the basic child support obligation. Generally speaking, things like private schools, special needs of gifted or disabled kids and additional transportation expenses will be classed as an extraordinary expense. One of the key things courts look at when deciding whether or not to add an extraordinary expense is if the expense is predictable and reoccurring. This is especially true if the parents earn in excess of $187,200.00.
One way to avoid the guesswork of how the guidelines will be applied as they concern extracurricular activities is to have clear language in your divorce settlement agreement or final order from the court. Setting a cap on the number of activities, the total cost each party must contribute, or a method by which the parties can agree to enroll each child in extracurricular activities are all ways in which the couple can bring some clarity to their respective financial contributions.
Regardless, parents can sometimes become frustrated with each other. One party might feel that they are double paying when the custodial parent approaches them for more support to pay an expense they believe is covered by the guidelines. The custodial parent might feel that the support they do receive is nowhere close to being able to pay for the needs or reality of living with their children. But the basic rule is that, as long as the child’s basic needs are being met, then the custodial parent can spend their money however they like.
If you’re still wondering what does child support cover in NJ, get in touch with the Law Offices of Peter Van Aulen for a free, in-office consultation today. Call him at (201) 845 – 7400.