When parents separate, there’s lots of room for disagreement, but most parents can agree on one thing—children with divorced, separated, or unmarried parents deserve the same financial support as children with parents who live in the same household.
This is where a child support agreement or order comes into play. A well-written child support agreement shields your children from economic hardship, both in the immediate aftermath of separation and years down the road. Unfortunately, parents negotiating a child support agreement often disagree about how much money is appropriate and what expenses child support should cover. In cases where parents can’t resolve this divide, the court can enter an order for support, but it is rarely as tailored to the entire family’s needs as an agreement.
To ensure that children get the financial support they deserve, the New Jersey court system offers many resources to help parents and judges decide what their family’s child support agreement should look like, or which a court will rely upon when entering an order for support.
How is child support determined?
It’s often thought that the non-custodial parent automatically bears the bulk of child support requirements, but the truth is that child support payments are based on a number of different factors far beyond parenting time. It’s also important to note that the custodial parent’s obligation factors into the child support equation.
The New Jersey’s Child Support Guidelines, a standardized formula for calculating child support, provides the foundation for determining child support. These guidelines consider many facets of your family’s life, including:
- The division of parenting time
- The child’s needs
- Each parent’s finances (such as income, overtime, bonuses, commissions, and assets)
- Each parent’s earning capacity
- Each parent’s age and health
- The number and age of the children
- Children’s healthcare costs and concerns
- Standard of living
- Cost of childcare
- Existing child support obligations from prior children
These guidelines were developed in an effort to provide children with the same amount of financial support they would receive if both parents were residing in the same household.
What does child support include?
Whether you’re responsible for paying child support or for receiving it on behalf of your child, it’s important to understand what the payments are intended to cover. In New Jersey, basic child support payments cover more than you might expect (and often, parents find, not nearly enough to support the real costs associated with the list below).
Child support in NJ is intended to meet a wide range of children’s needs across multiple categories, which are listed below.
Housing costs can be one of the most substantial pieces of a home budget, no matter your family circumstances. As such, child support payments can apply to a broad range of housing-related expenses. Housing costs can include (but aren’t limited to) mortgage principal and interest payments, property taxes, renters insurance, repairs and maintenance, utilities, public services, lawn care, laundry and dry cleaning, furniture and appliances, household equipment, and housewares.
Child support can be used for any food purchased for home consumption or purchased away from home. However, child support does not cover non-food items such as tissue paper, alcoholic beverages, or cigarettes.
Child support should cover predictable and recurring unreimbursed healthcare expenses up to $250 per year, per child. Medical expenses that exceed this amount can be split between the parents if the parents have a separate agreement and the expenses are predictable.
There are no hard-and-fast rules about how much money custodial parents should spend on clothing or what type of clothing child support should be spent on. In addition to the clothing a child wears, child support payments could be applied to:
- Winter clothes
- School uniforms
However, child support payments for clothing do NOT cover special footwear for sports, such as cleats or ice skates.
Transportation and travel
Child support can be used to cover the costs associated with maintaining a vehicle in New Jersey, from the principal cost of a car loan to gas and motor oil to maintenance. It can also include public transit, parking fees, towing, tolls, and more.
That being said, it doesn’t include the costs of purchasing a new vehicle (net outlay), nor the expenses associated with purchasing a teenage child’s vehicle. Parents may agree to each pay a percentage of these costs in an additional section of the basic child support agreement.
Entertainment and extracurriculars
Child support payments can be applied to a wide variety of entertainment for children, including:
- Admission to sports events
- Sports equipment
- Recreational events
- Mobile devices
- Sound equipment
- Playground equipment
- Video games
- Photographic equipment
- Clothes/gear associated with extracurricular activities
Depending on the circumstances, it could be in your child’s best interest to make a formal agreement in advance that outlines how you will split costs for:
- Private education
- College expenses
- Special celebrations (“Sweet Sixteen” or bat mitzvah, for example)
- Work-related childcare
- Health insurance
- Costs associated with special needs
- Travel expenses related to holiday parenting time
Your child support agreement might include separate provisions for these additional expenses.
How do I know if my child support payments are being used appropriately?
A parent who is responsible for paying support to another parent on behalf of their children may feel frustrated because they aren’t sure how their child support payments are being used “the way they are supposed to be.”
Typically, parents who receive child support payments are not obligated to provide the paying parent with a breakdown of how child support payments are allocated. However, in a situation where one parent is paying support and many expenses for the children (clothing, activities, etc.) do not seem to be satisfied, the paying parent may be entitled to question whether support is being properly utilized for the child’s well-being.
If you have concerns about how your child support payments are being used, contact a family law attorney with experience supporting families in addressing child support questions in NJ to see whether legal action is feasible.
Jacobs Berger can help you create and understand your child support agreement or court order
Your child support agreement is a key tool for successful co-parenting and a court’s order for support may need to be refined further if it doesn’t address all of the details you might hope. At Jacobs Berger, we’ve seen that when co-parents have the same financial expectations, it’s easier to remain focused on your children’s best interests.
Whether you need to establish, modify, or enforce a child support order, contact us to schedule your strategy session with our team and take the first step toward a solid financial future for your child.