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Child Support 101: The Whats and Whys of How Child Support is Calculated

By Sarah Jacobs, Esq.

This post is the first in our series about what goes into calculating child support in New Jersey and the role that income plays. This blog focuses on the basic financial factors that go into the New Jersey Child Support Guidelines. To read the second blog, click here

Figuring out child support obligations is a top priority for couples with children who are separated, divorcing, or never married. Whether you’re paying or receiving support, you need to understand what to expect so you can plan accordingly. 

In general, the goal of child support is relatively straightforward: to reduce the financial impact of divorce or separation on children and provide them with the same standard of living that they would have if their parents or caregivers lived together. 

But if you’ve never dealt with child support calculations, it’s often difficult to untangle the who, what, when, where, and why behind it. This three-part blog series is intended to demystify, to the extent possible, how child support is calculated and, just as importantly, what parents should expect from the process.  

What are the New Jersey child support guidelines? 

How do you come up with a child support obligation? In New Jersey, it starts with the New Jersey child support guidelines. These guidelines provide the basis for how the court can determine fair and adequate child support awards based on several factors. 

Unless you and your co-parent work together to develop a mutually satisfactory child support agreement, the total amount of child support that will need to be paid or received will be based, for the most part, on the New Jersey Child Support Guidelines and subject to restrictive calculations. 

What factors are included in New Jersey’s child support guidelines?

Under the New Jersey child support guidelines, child support payments are calculated in an exact manner based on numerous factors, such as the following:

  • Financial status of both parents, including income, bonuses, overtime, commissions, and other forms of earnings 
  • Agreed-upon or court-ordered child custody and parenting time arrangement
  • Age and number of children in the family
  • Cost of work-related childcare
  • Cost of health care for the children, including the cost of coverage and, in certain situations, unreimbursed expenses
  • Tax status of both parents, including deductions and filings, and
  • If there are other dependents for whom a child support obligation may be applicable

Financial factors in child support

To determine child support in New Jersey, the court looks at a number of financial factors. None of them hold more weight than the others. Instead, they’re all taken into consideration as part of the holistic picture of a family, their financial circumstances, and the needs of the children. 

These factors include parental income, standard of well-being, and estimated costs. 

Parental income    

Each parent’s individual income is a primary consideration in child support calculations. Of course, income looks different for every family and is applied differently to each family depending on factors like parenting time. 

For example, if both parents earn similar incomes and share an equal amount of parenting time, it’s possible that child support might not be granted. Conversely, if one parent makes significantly more than the other and only spends two nights a week with the child, they may be required to provide more support than if they had roughly equal parenting time.

Remember that a parent’s “income” isn’t limited to salaries. Additional financial considerations include but are not limited to: 

  • Profits from business ownership or investments
  • Royalties, bonuses, capital gains, and interest on investments
  • Annuities or other gains from a trust
  • Distributions from social security, lawsuits, retirement plans, unemployment benefits, and more
  • Child support payments or obligations for children from another relationship (deducted from eligible gross income) 

Standard of well-being

As part of the New Jersey child support guidelines, the court must determine a standard of well-being for a family. The standard of well-being aims to provide children with the same standard of living they would have in a two-parent household, taking into consideration that one-parent households have to stretch their income and budgets further. 

Keep in mind that determining the cost of raising a child can be difficult because costs can be highly variable between families. Moreover, most goods and services families purchase are shared between adults and children. 

These projected costs inform the total amount of child support, but as noted before, this is just one factor in the calculations. Any additional expenses for the family with a child are considered to be the marginal cost of the child. 

Estimated costs (AKA marginal cost estimation)

To determine how much it would cost to raise a child, New Jersey uses a method called “marginal cost estimation.” With marginal cost estimation, researchers look at two equally well-off families (one with and one without a child). Any additional expenses for the family with a child are considered to be the marginal cost of the child. 

These projected costs inform the total amount of child support, but as noted before, this is just one factor in the calculations. 

What expenses do Child Support Guidelines account for in New Jersey?

Child support schedules consider a range of expenses typically associated with raising children. Child support estimates an average for child-rearing expenses from age 0-18, though families with teenage children are estimated to spend more on their children. 

If an initial support order is entered after a child or children have turned twelve, there is usually an upward adjustment in the award based on the increased costs associated with older children. Remember that college expenses or private school costs are considered separately from child support schedules. 

These expenses are based on the average spending of intact families and include:

  • Housing: Mortgage, rent, property taxes, utilities, and other household expenses
  • Food: All food and non-alcoholic beverages, including those purchased away from home
  • Clothing: Costs for children’s clothing, footwear, and related items
  • Transportation: Expenses related to car payments, gas, insurance, and maintenance, as well as any public transportation costs
  • Entertainment: Cost of recreational and social events, toys, lessons, hobbies, sports, mobile devices, and other forms of entertainment
  • Miscellaneous Items: Personal care products, books, school supplies, and other miscellaneous expenses

Note that these categories are a general overview, but the Child Support Guidelines go into far more detail. Your attorney should work with you to analyze your expenses, how they line up with what is covered in the Guidelines, and how to advocate for a child support obligation that will serve your child’s best interests. 

Additional costs that may factor into child support obligations  

The costs of raising a child can be expansive and unpredictable. To account for additional variables in child-rearing expenses, New Jersey may include other items in a child support obligation, depending on a family’s circumstances. 

  • Child-related spending as a percentage of net income
  • Work-related childcare costs
  • Health insurance premiums for the child
  • Other expenses approved by the court

Just as stated above, these categories are a general overview. Still, it’s important to talk through your specific needs with your attorney so they can help you determine the best strategy for your child support case. 

A New Jersey child support attorney can help

The Child Support Guidelines in New Jersey provide a structured—but complex—framework for calculating child support. It can be challenging to anticipate these expenses, which is where trusted legal counsel can help. 

Make sure you have all the information possible as you move forward. An experienced New Jersey child support attorney can help you understand how the guidelines might apply to your unique situation, prepare the necessary documentation, and advocate for a fair resolution that protects your children’s standard of well-being.

If you need legal counsel for a new or ongoing child support arrangement, make an appointment to coordinate your strategy session with our team.

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.