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Understanding the Basics of Child Support
Child support is a source of financial income for a child, provided for them by a parent or parents who do not live under the same roof. Usually paid in the form of monthly installments, this financial support is intended to help a custodial parent or guardian cover expenses related to raising that child. These expenditures commonly include the cost of food, clothes, and medical bills, but can cover a wide range of other expenses, as well. An order for child support usually follows a divorce or a determination of paternity.
Distinct from alimony, child support is legally allotted to the child rather than their custodian. While a custodian is typically responsible for managing the money, it is not intended for any of their own expenses. Consequently, in the eyes of the law, a child is entitled to share the current income of both their parents – regardless of how much their current custodian makes.
With high rates of divorce and children born to unmarried parents, ensuring and regulating child support is an important issue in the US. A child’s well-being should not suffer because their parent is not willing to pay.
A child is entitled to share the current income of both their parents – regardless of how much their current custodian makes.
Factors Affecting the Total
Determining the appropriate amount for child support is decided by a mathematical calculation approved by the state. However, a number of factors are also taken into consideration:
- Number of children
- Physical, mental, and emotional needs of children
- Standard of living and economic circumstances of each parent
- All sources of income and assets for each parent
- Age and health of children and parents
- Income, assets and earning ability of the child
The amount of child support due is entirely dependent on the situation of the parents. If circumstances change, then a court order or a mutual agreement between the parents can revise the original amount at any time. A lost job, a new apartment, and college expenses can radically change the financial situation. Even if no such changes occur, the total is usually reviewed at least once every two years, to adjust for the cost of living.
“Changed circumstances” often warrant the modification of child support. Most commonly, a party will experience a change in income or the needs of the child will change. For example, if the obligor of child support payments is promoted and takes a substantial increase in salary, the obligee can apply for a child support modification and seek more child support.
Child support modification will not be warranted, however, where changes are only temporary or anticipated but have not taken place yet. Lepis v. Lepis, 83 N.J. 139 (1980). Where a party makes a prima facie showing of changed circumstances, a court may then order the production of the opposing party’s financial information, such as a case information statement. The complete financial information of both parents is necessary for any order of child support. Other examples of “changed circumstances” include the following:
- job loss;
- the earning ability of each parent;
- the age and health of each parent;
- the standard of living of each parent; and
- the income, assets, and earning ability of the child.
Unfortunately, many non-custodial parents fail or refuse to pay child support. In such cases, the court can enforce payment in a number of ways:
- Interest rates on unpaid support
- Garnished wages
- Warrant for arrest
- Loss of driving privileges
- Loss of tax refunds or other assets
Termination of Child Support by Emancipation of Child
Often, a party will try to terminate their child support when he or she believes the child to be emancipated and able to be financially independent. Emancipation of a child occurs when a parent relinquishes his or her right to custody of the child and is relieved of the obligation to support a child. Newburgh v. Arrigo, 88 N.J. 529, 543 (1982). Emancipation can be established in several ways, including but not limited to the following: (1) the child’s marriage; (2) enlistment into military service; (3) by a court order based on the best interests of the child; and (4) reaching the age of majority subject to a few exceptions (e.g. disability of child). Id. Reaching the age of majority, now 18, establishes prima facie, but not dispositive, evidence of emancipation. Ultimately, the issue is always fact-sensitive and the crucial inquiry is whether the child has moved beyond the “sphere of influence” and accountability exercised by a parent and attains an independent status of his or her own. Filippone v. Lee, 304 N.J. Super. 301, 308 (App. Div. 1997). The determination of whether a child is no longer under their parent’s sphere of influence involves a fact-sensitive evaluation of the circumstances including, but not limited to, the child’s needs, independent resources and assets, interests, the family’s reasonable expectations, and the parties’ financial ability. Dolce v. Dolce, 383 N.J. Super. 11, 18 (App. Div. 2006).
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