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Can Parents Agree to No Child Support?

By Sarah Jacobs, Esq.

As with most aspects of family law, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to child support. Some families land on a straightforward agreement for an exchange of funds (weekly, bi-weekly, monthly or any other cadence that suits their needs), while others may require a highly complex and detailed court order. 

And some families may not want to establish a formal child support obligation at all. 

The reasons for not wanting to establish child support are varied. Both parties may have the same financial means at the time of their separation or divorce, split parenting time equally with their co-parent (whether they were married or not), and/or want to make things as “simple” as possible by declining child support. 

On the other hand, there are situations where one parent may not be involved in raising their child and therefore feels they shouldn’t have a child support obligation, and the custodial parent doesn’t seek to compel them to contribute. (In this instance though, we caution parents who make this arrangement.)

But while parents might theoretically both agree they don’t want to arrange child support, establishing child support isn’t about reflecting parental wishes, but rather, what’s in the best interest of the child. In New Jersey, child support is the right of the child to receive, not the parent, and technically, a parent cannot waive child support on their child’s behalf without some other arrangement for financial contribution in place.

An overview of child support in New Jersey

Child support in New Jersey is intended to help meet a child’s material needs, providing them with the same financial support they would receive if both parents resided in the same household. 

It is intended to address both parents’ obligations to contribute to the financial costs associated with:

  • Housing 
  • Food 
  • Medical insurance coverage costs  
  • Clothing 
  • Transportation and travel 
  • Entertainment and extracurriculars 

Additional expenses, like college costs, private education, work-related childcare, unreimbursed medical expenses, or costs associated with special needs, may also be established as part of child support arrangements.

It’s a common misconception that the custodial parent (whom the child lives with the majority of the time) is always the one to receive child support or that in situations where parents share residential custody equally, no child support is paid or owed. In reality, payments are based on many factors, not just parenting time.

How is child support calculated?

The New Jersey Child Support Guidelines provide a formula to calculate child support payments. These guidelines are not the sole determining factor, but they form the basis of an obligation that can become the ordered amount or get tweaked before being set. 

Factors in child support calculations include:    

  • The parenting time order or agreement
  • Proportional contribution to the child’s needs, as listed above
  • The number and age of the children
  • Each parent’s finances, including income, bonuses, commissions, and assets that generate income
  • Each parent’s earning capacity (where imputed income may be a factor)
  • Cost of childcare
  • Existing child support obligations from prior relationships  
  • Tax obligations and credits
  • Any other government benefits received by a parent or on behalf of a child

Note that if you are addressing these issues outside of the courts, such as through mediation or negotiation between the parties through your attorneys, you can deviate from these guidelines as long as you and your co-parent are in agreement.  

However, agreeing to deviate from state guidelines is not the same thing as waiving child support altogether. 

Can child support be waived if both parents agree?

In the majority of cases in New Jersey, child support isn’t optional, even if both parents say they don’t want it. As noted above, child support is designed to meet the needs of a child, and it’s the right of the child to receive it, not the right of the parent to decline it.  

With this in mind, it’s important to develop a plan that reflects your family’s circumstances—and you and your co-parent are part of that equation. You have several options to help you do this, including mediation and modification of a child support order.

Mediating your child support obligation

If you’re in the process of determining your initial child support obligation, mediation can help you customize your arrangement. 

Through mediation, you can determine: 

  • Who will pay child support and how much 
  • How often payments will be made
  • How long child support will continue
  • Which additional expenses are covered

If you’re not sure that mediation is in the cards for you because of a litigated divorce, remember that you can pursue mediation on specific issues even if you’re resolving other concerns through the courts. Your attorneys can also help—even if you and your spouse or co-parent don’t initially agree, they can help provide guidance to work through complicated issues and come up with a result that works for everyone. 

Modification of an existing child support obligation

For families that have already determined a child support obligation but are now discussing whether they want to continue payments, child support modification can be an option. 

Modification allows families to adjust their obligations to reflect current circumstances. If a co-parent wishes to end child support because of a life change, this can be accomplished.  

However, there must be a demonstrable reason to pursue modification that involves a significant and permanent change in circumstances. Reasons may include: 

  • Receiving a promotion or raise that changes your income substantially    
  • Severe illness
  • Changes in federal tax law
  • Increased cost of living
  • Experiencing a reduction in salary
  • A significant change in the parenting time schedule
  • Birth of another child or children for whom you have a financial obligation

Like an original obligation, you can use mediation to pursue a child support obligation or use your attorneys to negotiate a resolution so that your modified child support arrangement is as customized as possible.  

A New Jersey child support attorney can help

During this process, it’s important to work closely with an experienced child support attorney.

Whether you and your spouse want to minimize child support obligations or previously agreed to waive child support and now need to pursue child support for your child’s welfare, they can help you explore different paths forward and advocate for a solution that meets your child’s needs.

At Jacobs Berger, LLC, our team prides itself on developing legal solutions that fit your needs. To understand your options for a child support agreement that provides a solid financial future for your child, contact our team to coordinate your strategic planning session.

Contact Our Morristown Attorneys Today

At Jacobs Berger, our attorneys are experienced in protecting our clients across Madison, Randolph, Tewksbury, Morristown, and the greater Morris County area in all family law-related issues.

To schedule a strategic planning session with one of our experienced team members regarding your particular case, please contact us online or through our Morristown, NJ office at (973) 354-4506.