Regardless of custody and other parenting decisions made when two parents do not live together, three guiding principles followed by NJ courts remain the same:
- Child support is a continuous duty of both parents.
- Children are entitled to share in the current income of both parents.
- Children should not be the economic victims of divorce or birth out-of-wedlock.
Through years of continued development, the formulas used to compute child support have been refined to develop a reasonable estimate of each parent’s financial responsibilities to their children.
This estimate may be an accurate representation of each parent’s ability to contribute to the children; however, since every situation is unique, the estimates may be too high — or too low.
To help prepare effective cases, parents who face these issues need to gain a clear understanding of the wide range of circumstances that can affect their ultimate child support responsibilities.
Judicial Discretion Can Be a Major Factor in Extreme Income Situations
It is virtually impossible to create reliable formulas that address every possible situation, so when parents’ incomes are very high or very low, judges must exercise some degree of discretion. Still, even in these cases, they work based on certain sets of specific numbers, as explained in Considerations in the Use of Child Support Guidelines, a reference document used by the court system.
The low-income considerations are based on the U.S. Poverty Guideline. When a parent’s net income, minus the total support award, falls below 105% of the U.S. Poverty Guideline, the court must analyze living expenses to ensure that the parent has a means of self-support.
Even in these cases, judges are required to set a support award, which can be as low as $5.00 per week for each child. A minimal award follows the core principles while providing a base point for increasing future awards in the event that the parent’s income increases.
Judicial discretionary decisions are often more complex when the combined incomes of both parents exceed a specific value ($187,200 in 2015). In these cases, the courts use a two-step approach to calculate child support requirements.
The first step uses the basic child support guidelines to determine each parent’s child support responsibilities based on the maximum combined income level. Then the judge addresses the income over the combined maximum amount separately, using discretion to determine each parent’s total obligation.
The Courts Consider Many Other Issues When Determining Child Support
Of course, financial status is not the only issue that can lead to judicial discretion. The courts consider as many as 18 different factors, which include property distribution or parenting decisions made during the divorce, taxes, ages, and needs of the children and much more. In other words, the basis for judicial child support decisions is as complicated as the intricacies of the lives of all family members.
Each Denville child support attorney at Riordan Family Law addresses the best interests of the children while helping to ensure that our clients contribute to child support in an equitable manner. To learn more about the many considerations involved in helping to ensure that children obtain the support that they need, call us or use our convenient online contact form.