In the state of New Jersey, the law determines that every child should be supported by their parents, whether or not those parents share a household—or a last name. However, unmarried parents may mistakenly believe that they aren’t eligible to file for (or be required to pay) child support because of their marital or relationship status. This can lead to stress, financial instability, and ultimately, disadvantages for the families involved.
Families come in all shapes and sizes, and so do child support agreements. If you’re uncertain about whether you are eligible to seek (or may be required to pay) child support, you may have options you weren’t aware of. As you plan for your future, it helps to know how child support is determined when parents are unmarried or separated, and what the next steps are for co-parents who are ready to get the process started.
Why unmarried parents are eligible to file for child support
Although child support is often determined as part of a divorce settlement, a divorce is not a prerequisite for payment or receipt of child support. In New Jersey, child support is a child’s right, not a parent’s right. The state of New Jersey has determined that children are entitled to financial support from both parents.
The family court allows any parent to apply for (or to pay) financial support on behalf of a child—regardless of the parent’s relationship status. An experienced child support attorney can assist you in creating a child support agreement even if you and your co-parent were never married (or if you are married, but are separated and not pursuing divorce proceedings).
Child support can also be determined for third parties, including psychological parents and caregivers, but these situations are more fact-sensitive and require special consideration.
Is child support calculated differently if the parents are unmarried?
New Jersey child support guidelines are formulated based on the amount of financial support each parent would provide to a child if they both lived in the same household. These guidelines account for many factors, but marital status is not one of them. Factors involved in calculating child support include:
- The division of parenting time
- The child’s needs
- Each parent’s finances (such as income, overtime, bonuses, commissions, and assets) and earning capacity
- Each parent’s age and health
- The number and age of the children
- The children’s healthcare costs and concerns
- Standard of living
- The cost of childcare
- Existing child support obligations from prior children
If you and your co-parent are unable to agree on a child support amount—or if one parent refuses to pay child support—the court and the New Jersey child support guidelines are applicable (meaning, in most cases, your child is 17 years of age or younger), the court typically uses the guidelines to determine which parent is obligated to pay, and how much.
Child support may also be determined privately through formal or informal mediation, or other alternative dispute resolution methods, as long as both parents find the agreement tenable. To be legally binding, any informal agreement or child support agreement made through mediation must be submitted to and entered by the court.
How to file for child support
Establishing child support begins with filing an application with the court and providing information about the other parent so that they can be notified and parentage can be determined. The next steps depend on how you are handling the matter.
- If you are filing through the Title IV-D Child Support Program, the child support office will use said application to establish a child support order.
- If you are working with private counsel, the Court will enter a child support order after you file your application, any opposition is filed, and the court hears the argument. Sometimes, a hearing officer may be responsible for trying to resolve the matter, but ultimately a judge needs to finalize the outcome.
The child support order will state how much your co-parent is obligated to pay, which will be determined by either:
- The agreement you’ve made with your co-parent OR
- New Jersey’s child support guidelines OR
- A deviated amount that reflects the specific facts of your family (if for any reason the court determines the guidelines do not apply)
An important note to keep in mind: the Child Support office will get involved after a court order is entered if:
- The order requires the payor to pay through the probation department AND
- They are responsible for managing and collecting it AND
- There are arrears
Child support payments in New Jersey
There are several different ways support can be paid, both through the State program and via direct pay between the parents.
Families may come to an agreement as the most appropriate manner for making/receiving child support payments, but it’s important to note that the recipient of the support has the legal right to request payment through the state system and via income withholding/wage garnishment. This is where co-parents have payments deducted from one parent’s paycheck and deposited into the other parent’s account automatically, often via direct deposit into the receiving parent’s support account. Not only does this facilitate timely and consistent payments, but it also creates a transparent record of payment amounts and times.
Working with an experienced child support attorney can offer meaningful support for you and your family throughout this process. Even in cases where co-parents feel they are in total agreement on child support issues, an attorney can help you assess your child’s long-term needs so your child support order is as robust as possible.
Contact a Morristown family law attorney today
Whether you need to confirm or oppose paternity, file for child support or participate in pleadings filed against you, or address an application for enforcement or modification on an existing child support agreement, legal guidance from an experienced attorney can simplify the process and help you reach your goals.
In our relationships with our clients, we recognize that every family is unique. Our team prides itself on developing creative, individualized legal solutions that fit your needs.
For a confidential and comprehensive case assessment regarding your child support, divorce, and family law-related issues, contact our team to coordinate your strategic planning session.