How Does Equal Parenting Time Arrangements Affect New Jersey Child Support?
The goal of the New Jersey Child Support Guidelines was to establish a level of fairness and uniformity when a Court awards child support in this state. As a New Jersey Family Attorney, I know that the Guidelines were also developed based on one parent being designated as the “Parent of Primary Residence” and the other parent as the “Parent of Alternate Residence”. However, as an equal parenting time schedule between divorced couples becomes more common (as opposed to the more traditional “every other weekend” schedule), the designation of Parent of Primary Residence vs. Parent of Alternate residence becomes less applicable for purposes of establishing an appropriate New Jersey child support award. Very often, this designation is made strictly for school enrollment purposes if say one parent will be living outside the school district, despite exercising equal parenting time.
Every New Jersey child support lawyer understands that it is most common that child support is paid to the Parent of Primary Residence by the Parent of Alternate Residents. However, in the case of an equal parenting time situation with these designations, New Jersey Child Support Guidelines will produce a support number that is not necessarily as “fair” as the designers of the Guidelines intended. For example, if Mom and Dad have equal parenting time, but Dad is going to move to the next town over and thus out of the school system, Mom will likely be designated the Parent of Primary Residence. Therefore, because of the way the Guidelines were designed, Mom will most likely be paid child support from Dad, despite their equal parenting time arrangement.
A case somewhat recently addressed this issue and instructed how New Jersey Child Support Guidelines should be applied in situations of equal parenting time. The case is Wunsch-Deffler v. Deffler, 406 N.J. Super. 505 (Ch. Div. 2009). What the Court in Wunsch-Deffler v. Deffler found is that in cases where the parties share an equal, or close to equal, amount of overnights with the child(ren), an adjustment should be made to the Child Support Guidelines calculation, and the payor spouse’s obligation. The Court found that this is necessary to account for the fact that both parents have the responsibility of paying for the children’s “controlled expenses”. Therefore, the adjustment laid in the “controlled expenses”.
This adjustment is necessary to account for both parents’ responsibility for paying the child(ren)’s “controlled expenses” as they are defined under the Child Support Guidelines (note that controlled expenses differ from the other two categories fixed expenses (representing 38% of the child support amount) and variable expenses (representing 37% of the child support amount). Controlled expenses (representing 25% of the child support amount) include items like clothing, personal care, entertainment and other miscellaneous expenses. The Child Support Guidelines assume that only the Parent of Primary Residence will have these expenses. However, in our equal parenting time situations, that is not the case. In a truly shared parenting arrangement, this result would be unfair because the Parent of Alternate residence will also have these expenses, and would result in the parent paying the child support paying these expenses twice – first as and part of the child support paid, and again when theses expenses are actually incurred during their parenting time.
The Wunsch-Deffler v. Deffler Court found that the way to remedy this was by subtracting 25% of the assumed controlled expenses from the payor’s child support obligation and therefore taking into account that both parties pay controlled expenses for the children during their parenting time.
The makers of most child support guidelines software make it easy on the user by specifically outlining on the second page the appropriate amount to subtract from the payor parent’s child support obligation.
While deviations and/or supplements to the guidelines are permitted in high-income cases or in the presence of other compelling circumstances by N.J.S.A. 2A:34-23.a, Judges are not obligated to follow this formula due to the fact that it came from a trial court. However, this decision does provide a good argument for those parents who are in a truly equal parenting time arrangement and yet are saddled with an obligation that does not account for the reality of the expenses which are incurred with an existing designation of “Parent of Alternate Residence.”
If you have questions regarding New Jersey Child Support, please never hesitate to contact our office to learn more about how we may help you. Thank you.
The piece was written by Molly Turpin, Esq., yet another rising star at Law Offices of Edward R. Weinstein.