As illustrated in the March 2, 2016, New Jersey Appellate Division case of Gomez v. Gomez, lawyer’s are reminded that it is well within the court’s power to impute income on a parent to calculate child support, when that same parent is unemployed or underemployed, voluntarily and without cause. When imputing income for the purpose of calculating child support, a child support lawyer may effectively argue that the New Jersey’s (or whatever state the parent may live in) Department of Labor statistics should be used when imputing income upon a parent. A New Jersey Family Part judge use these statistics as a guide in order to ensure to the best of their ability that the child support amount is enough to cover the child’s needs.

In Gomez v. Gomez, the New Jersey Appellate Division reviewed the amount of income that the Superior Court of New Jersey, Bergen County, Family Part, imputed onto ex-husband, Steven Gomez. Steven and Joyce Gomez got married in May 1984 and divorced eighteen years later on May 7, 2002. They had two children together. The older child was emancipated at the time of this appeal, while the youngest was twenty-two years of age, and studied at Quinnipiac College. Joyce and Steven’s final judgment of divorce incorporated a mutually agreed to property settlement agreement. According the property settlement agreement, Joyce was to be designated the custodial parent, and Steven was to pay her child support in the amount of $ 1,000 a month for both children.

In July of 2006, the parents filed a slew of motions relating to Steven’s child support obligation, and were directed by the court to partake in economic mediation. By direction of the court, both parents submitted their financial information to the mediator, and a consent order based on that information was entered on December 1, 2006. This consent order directed Steven to now pay child support through the Bergen County Probation Department, in the amount of $ 505 every week. This child support award was based on numerous factors. First, Steven’s gross annual income was $ 197,600. This amount consisted of a base salary of $ 157,000, and a bonus of $ 40,000. Second, Joyce’s gross annual income was $ 76,210. This amount consisted of $ 25,000 from working income, an imputed income of $ 16,000, and a passive income of $ 35,209.97 that came from her 16.5% ownership in a business held by her family members. The consent order also stated that Steven owed Joyce $ 11,896.04 in child support.

Steven filed a motion to emancipate his older twenty-three-year-old son on March 14, 2014. According to Joyce and Steven’s property settlement agreement, each child would become emancipated upon turning twenty-two, whether they were still attending college full-time or not. In the same motion Steven also sought a reduction of child support. He claimed he deserved a reduction because in May 2011 he was let go from his job at Costar Realty. He contended that even though he had made numerous attempts to find a similar or comparable job, he did not succeed.

In 2011 Steven and his second wife moved to Florida, where he started a business doing mortgage and credit counseling, similar to the work he had been doing in New York. Florida changed its laws, however, and soon required that anyone giving foreclosure or mortgage advice, be a member of the bar. Steven claimed that after this new law he stopped operating his business. He divorced his second wife and remarried in 2011, and then moved in with his parents who lived in Ridgewood, New Jersey. Steven claimed that his unemployment compensation benefits ran out in December of 2012, and so he was forced to rely completely on his parents, who gave him almost $ 2000 every month. While he collected unemployment benefits, he also worked around eight to ten hours every day for Douglass Elliman as a tenant representative. However Steven testified that he failed to file income tax for the years of 2011, 2012, or 2013. He claimed that in 2012 and 2013 he did not earn any income that required him to file a tax return.

On April 11, 2014, the Family Part granted Steven’s emancipation motion. The judge stated that the son must be emancipated according the mutually agreed to terms of the property settlement agreement. In the same order, the judge moved up Steven’s motion to recalculate child support to May 9, 2014. Both parents were ordered to provide necessary documentation and information so that the court could determine the correct amount of child support for the younger child. The court held that because the child was a full-time college student, living on campus, the calculation would be in accordance with the 2012 case of Jacoby v. Jacoby. In this order, the judge made it crystal clear that she fully intended to impute an income onto Steven as an experienced real estate broker based on the Labor Statistics from the New York State Department of Labor in the amount of $ 155,930. for Joyce she would use her current annual income of $ 96,761.90. Even knowing this, Steven failed to provide any extra information or even to question the judge’s reliance on a statistical approach to determine his child support obligation. Steven wanted the judge to use only the $ 2,000 a month he received from the judge as his income, but the judge stated that using only $ 24,000 for a fifty-six-year-old real estate broker would be ridiculous.

In a statement of reasons submitted to the New Jersey Appellate Division, the motion judge further explained her reasoning. She stated that Joyce provided additional documentation that included a detailing of the child’s college bills for 2014-2015. This amount totaled $ 72,622, and included study abroad expenses, registration fees, room and board, books, health insurance, and computer supplies. In the Jacoby case, the New Jersey Appellate Division held that a trial judge must calculate child support for college students in accordance with the factors stated in New Jersey Statute 2A:34-23a. More specifically, the judge must define the child’s individual needs, and consider the assets, debts, income, age, earning capacity, and health of each parent and each child to calculate an appropriate child support award. The New Jersey Appellate Division found that the motion judge did indeed apply the Jacoby factors to the information, or lack thereof, that Steven provided, and came to a justifiable decision.

It is well within the court’s power to impute income on a parent to calculate child support, when that same parent is unemployed or underemployed, voluntarily and without cause. Because of Steven’s age, income history, and professional background, the judge was right to reject his suggestion to use the $ 2,000 a month he received from his parents as a baseline to determine his child support obligation. As such, the judge rightfully used the New York State’s Department of Labor statistics to impute income on to Steven that was consistent with both his earning history, and earning capabilities. The $ 897.94 a week obligation that the Family Part ordered Steven to pay in child support represented his 61.75% share of his son’s living and college expenses. That means Joyce also had an obligation to contribute towards the child’s college expenses, in a proportion of 38.25%. Based on the evidentiary record, the New Jersey Appellate Division did not find any legal or factual reason to disturb that judgment of the Family Part. Upon review, as long as there is reasonable support in the evidence for the Family Part’s findings, then there is no reason to change that decision.

Please contact my office if you have any questions regarding your child support.