Deviations from Child Support Guidelines: Discretion of Trial Courts
By Snyder Sarno D'Aniello Maceri & da Costa LLC on June 12, 2017
In New Jersey, N.J.S.A. 2A:34-23A sets forth several factors in the consideration of child support obligations of a parent. A few examples include 1) the needs of the child; 2) the needs and capacity of the child for education; 3) all sources of income of each parent; 4) the earning capacity of each parent; and 5) any debts or liabilities of each parent.
It’s quite common for circumstances to change and for a request to reduce child support payments to be made.
The case of Reagan v. Ryan, 2017 N.J. Super. Unpub. LEXIS 1358 (App. Div. 2017), is another example of child support calculations in New Jersey and how flexible the Child Support Guidelines are depending on the facts and circumstances of each case. In Reagan, the parties entered a Consent Final Judgment of Divorce (JOD) providing the following: (1) joint custody of their 11-year-old daughter; (2) plaintiff as parent of primary residence; (3) two overnights per week with defendant; (4) one weeknight dinner with defendant; and (5) child support payments to be calculated at the termination of plaintiff’s limited duration alimony obligation.
Upon the termination of plaintiff’s limited duration alimony obligation, a Family Part judge calculated child support at $10 per week using a shared parenting worksheet. Plaintiff argued, however, that the judge erred in using the worksheet because defendant allegedly had no separate sleeping accommodations for their daughter.
Plaintiff later filed a motion requesting modification of the parenting schedule based on her relocation to Burlington County; modification of child support based on defendant’s increased income; and venue transfer to Burlington County. The judge only granted her first request, modifying defendant’s parenting time to three weekends per month and additional time in the summer. This means defendant lost thirty-two days per year of parenting time.
Moreover, based upon the parties’ financial status, the judge determined that defendant did not have a continuing child support obligation. However, the judge required defendant to continue $10 weekly payments based on a statutory obligation requiring parents to provide child support to the best of their ability. The judge considered the fact that defendant now must commute fifty miles to see his daughter, which made it impossible to maintain their weeknight dinner. The judge determined that it was unfair to decrease defendant’s parenting time and increase his child support obligation. Thus, the judge believed that a sole parenting worksheet would result in a penalty to the defendant.
Generally, the Appellate Division will not overturn an award of child support unless the award is manifestly unreasonably or arbitrary. The Appellate Division ultimately affirmed the trial judge, asserting that the child support guidelines may only be modified or disregarded by a court when good cause is shown. The court noted that the trial judge may consider factors such as:
- The standard of living and economic situation of each parent;
- Any sources of income or assets of the parties;
- The earning capacity of each party; and
- All other factors the court may deem relevant.
Applying the factors set forth above, the Appellate Division found the trial judge did not abuse his discretion, and his award was not arbitrary, capricious or unreasonable under the facts of the case. The court noted that the trial judge only deviated from the Child Support Guidelines after careful consideration of the distance between the parties and their incomes.
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