As a New Jersey lawyer since 1995, a frequently asked question by my clients is, “what exactly does my child support pay for?” To this very day, the attorneys at my law firm they explain that there are certain “activities” that is covered as per New Jersey’s Child Support Guidelines, yet other “extraordinary expenses” are not. For example, if your child wants a new video game, that would be included in a child support payment. However, if your child suddenly decides that they would like to take equestrian horseback lessons, this would be likely deemed to be an extraordinary expense. The following appellate division case provides a nice illustration as to what child support covers and does not.
In Accardi v. Accardi, father, Anthony Accardi challenged three post-divorce orders entered by the Superior Court of New Jersey, Family Part, Morris County. These orders awarded custody to the mother, Lisa Accardi, awarded child support an alimony, and divided the parties’ assets.
Lisa and Anthony married on August 15, 1987, and raised three children together. On February 22, 1996 a judgment of divorce was entered which awarded joint custody with physical custody going to Lisa, and ordered Anthony to pay $ ,000 per month in child support, to provide health insurance for the kids, to pay $ 2,500 every month in alimony, to maintain $ 250,000 in life insurance for each child until the time of emancipation. The order also required both parent to contribute toward the children’s college expenses.
In 1998 Anthony filed a motion trying to decrease child support obligations. This motion resulted in several other motions, six oral arguments, and three orders. On October 29, 2002, the trial judge entered an intricate order. First, this order recalculated and fixed Anthony’s child support obligation for the year 2000 at $ 3,260 every month. This included $ 745 every month for extraordinary expenses. The order also recalculated and set child support for the year 2001 at $ 2,536 every month, again including $ 745 every month for extraordinary expenses. Moreover, the order found that Anthony underpaid child support in 200 and overpaid in 2001. Anthony was required to pay the difference of $ 7,886 to Lisa within thirty days. The order further found that the 14.6 percent upward adjustment of support for the oldest child in the March 1, 2002 order was correct. Finally, the order required Anthony to pay $ 7,000 to Lisa in counsel fees within 30 days.
Anthony appealed this order on December 5, 2002. This did not end the litigation however, as the judge failed to address Anthony’s request to fix his 2002 support obligation, so he field another motion requesting her to do so. This resulted in Lisa filing a cross-motion on December 24, 2002. This cross motion sought to set Anthony’s 2002 child support obligation at $ 852 per week, enter a judgment of $ 12,896 for “the short fall between Anthony’s proper 2002 child support obligation and the amount actually paid by [Anthony] during 2002,” and attorney’s fees for the October 29, 2002 order and this new motion.
Anthony filed a motion in opposition to the cross-motion and contended, among other things, that income should be imputed on Lisa for 2001 and that her claims for the children’s extraordinary expenses were unsupported and false. The judge entertained oral argument on March 18, 2003 and entered an order in which she refused to impute income to Lisa for calculating child support in 2002, and directed her to provide Anthony with proof that paid for the children’s 2002 summer camp expenses and ordered Anthony to include those cost as extraordinary expenses in the 2002 child support calculation. She further ordered Anthony to pay extraordinary expenses of $4,850 every year in addition to child support.
After another oral argument on April 1, 2003, the judge entered an order that addressed Lisa’s cross-motion. This order fixed Anthony’s child support obligation for 2012 at $656 every week, plus $ 93 a week for extraordinary expenses. This totaled $ 749 a week or $3,220 a month. The order also fixed his child support arrears for 2002 at $7,220, and ordered him to pay $1,000 every month on the debt until it became satisfied. On Mau 19, 2003, Anthony filed an amended notice of appeal, and sought review of the orders entered on March 18, 2003, and April 1, 2003, as well as the October 29, 2002 order. Anthony argued that the judge failed to require Lisa to present proof of the children’s extraordinary expenses in each of the orders, labeling the children’s extracurricular activities as extraordinary expenses, adding them to Anthony’s support obligations and improperly calculating them in the child support worksheets.
While Lisa claimed that she did provide proof of the extraordinary expenses she was claiming for 2000 and 2001, the New Jersey Appellate Division stated that all she submitted for 2001 was a list of the activities and amounts that added up to $ 7,776.65. When there are factual disputes, such as this, the moving party has the burden of proving that the expenses being claimed are both legitimate and reasonable. Simply listing the supposed expenses, without more, is not sufficient. An evidentiary hearing before a motion judge is necessary in such a situation for a fair and reasonable decision on the disputed issues. Lisa and Anthony had disputed extraordinary expenses since the October 29, 2002 order, and so that issue had never been properly resolved.
Next, Anthony argued that the motion judge should not have labeled certain expenses as “extraordinary” because they were for regular and ordinary extracurricular activities which should be paid from the basic child support obligation. He claimed that expenses like gymnastics, tennis lessons, horseback riding lessons, drum lessons and cheerleading are activities that should be included in basic child support payments. Alternatively, Anthony argued that even if the expenses were extraordinary, the motion judge still failed to include the amount of those expenses on line eleven of the child support worksheet and the division of them between the parents. Instead, the motion judge ordered Anthony to pay 100 percent of those expenses.
Lisa countered Anthony’s argument by claiming that not only were the expenses extraordinary, but that the children of parents with higher incomes are entitled to the benefit of such advantages. While the New Jersey Appellate Division agreed that in high income families, the children deserve the benefit of the financial advantages available to them, they still held that the custodial parent bears the burden of establishing the reasonableness of those expenses. After the October 29, 2002 order, Anthony was required to pay $ 745 every month for extraordinary expenses, but the motion judge did not explain the allocation of the funds, nor did she include extraordinary expenses in the worksheet. Indeed, the March 18, 2003 order stated that Anthony “agree[d] to include the total summer 2002 camp expenses for Nicole as extraordinary expenses in the 2002 calculation, as long as [Lisa] provided proof of payment.” Furthermore, the March 18 order stated that extraordinary expenses of $ 4,850 every year would be added to Anthony’s share of child support after child support calculation.
In the March 18, 2003 order the judge included gymnastics, art and horseback riding lessons as extraordinary expenses, but the New Jersey Appellate Division explained that this characterization is not consistent with the Child Support Guidelines. Moreover, the April 1, 2003 order set extraordinary expenses at $ 93 every week, but did not explain the type of expenses that amount would cover. The New Jersey Appellate Division held that the expenses characterized by the motion judge was extraordinary were not in fact extraordinary under the Guidelines, but were still unable to decide from the record before them whether they fall within the expenses that should be shared between the parents in proportion to their incomes. Because all of the issues relating to extraordinary expenses had been in dispute in every order under appeal, the New Jersey Appellate Division reversed the extraordinary expense portions of every order under appeal and ordered another hearing to determine: the items that should be considered as extraordinary expenses; the items the be considered simply as ordinary extracurricular expenses; whether the extracurricular activities should be added to or included in Anthony’s support obligation, the allocation of extraordinary and extracurricular expenses between the parents; and a calculation of extraordinary expenses consistent with this order for the years 2000, 2001, and 2002.
My law firm stands prepared to help you with any issues you may be facing regarding child support payments.