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During A N.J. Child Support Hearing, Do I Have A Right To Know The Other Parent’s Income?

            Yes.  The child support lawyers at our East Brunswick, New Jersey, law firm will always ensure that we receive any and all information regarding a parent’s income in order to ensure that the children are protected.  Furthermore, our attorneys always make sure that both parents are paying the proper amount as per New Jersey’s child support guidelines.  In the following case, a parent went to a child support hearing and asked for an adjournment because she had not been allowed to review the other parent’s income documentation.  The trial judge denied her request.  However the New Jersey Appellate decision reversed the trial court because she should have been granted an opportunity to review this information before the child support hearing took place.

            In Stephens v. Pickett, the parties were involved in a dating relationship and are the parents of twelve-year-old twins.  The mother was the twins’ primary caretaker after the relationship ended, and the father was ordered to pay $230 per week in child support by a court order entered before 2016.  The father was laid off from his position as a video editor on May 13, 2016.  Around that time, the father filed a complaint in the Superior Court of New Jersey, Family Part.  In his complaint, the father requested that the court reduce his child support obligation because of the father’s alleged change in circumstances.  In order to support his request to reduce child support, the father stated that he earned $20,000 in 2015 as a personal trainer.  In November of 2015, the father began working as a video editor earning $31,200, although the trial court found that the father earned closer to $38,340 based on his pay stubs.  The father has a bachelor’s degree in fine arts, but claimed there were few jobs available in that field even with his college degree.

            At the hearing, the mother testified that she did not receive the complaint or the accompanying documents.  The mother stated that she was told the file could not be found when she went to the courthouse to obtain a copy of the complaint and attached documents.  She also testified that she asked the court to adjourn, or push back, the legal proceedings so that she could review the documents and prepare for court, but her request was denied by the court.  The court then asked the father if he was able to earn $500 per week, to which he responded that he was able to do so.  The court then assigned the father $500 per week in income and used that amount to calculate the father’s child support obligation.  The mother’s income and father’s income were entered into the Child Support Guidelines to calculate the father’s child support obligation at $105 per week.  The court entered the order lowering the father’s child support obligation on June 15, 2016.

            On appeal, the mother argued that the father did not demonstrate that there was a change in circumstances to require a reduction in child support.  The mother also argued that the court was wrong to deny her request to adjourn the hearing so that she could review the complaint and attached documents.  The New Jersey Appellate Division stated that modification of a child support order could be made if the party wishing to modify demonstrates that there has been a change in circumstances, such as a substantial change in either parent’s income.  However, the Appellate Division noted that courts typically reject a party’s request to modify when the changed circumstance is only temporary.  The court also stated that current income is not the only factor courts use to determine a child support obligation.  The Appellate Division stated that a review of a child support modification is under an abuse of discretion standard.  The court also noted that in child support cases, courts have the power to assign a parent’s income as long as it is realistic and reasonable.  Similarly, a parent cannot successfully claim a change in circumstances without showing that there was also an attempt to find a job with similar pay to the job that was lost. 

            The Appellate Division held that the trial court abused its discretion by decreasing the father’s child support obligation.  The Appellate Division concluded that the trial court was wrong to deny the mother’s request for an adjournment because an adjournment would have given the mother time to review the documents and prepare for court.  Also, an adjournment would not have been harmful to the father.  The Appellate Division also found that the trial court judge did not make any conclusions of law or fact, which are required by Rule 1:7(a).  Furthermore, the Appellate Division concluded that there was an abuse of discretion because the father did not demonstrate a change in circumstances.  The court reasoned that although the father established that he was clearly laid off in 2016, there is no evidence indicating that the father attempted to find a job with similar pay to his position as a video editor.  The Appellate Division noted that rather than trying to find another job, the father filed a motion with the court to reduce child support almost immediately.  Lastly, the court reasoned that there was no indication that the father’s circumstances were more than temporary.

            Ultimately, the Appellate Division disagreed with the trial court and held that the trial court was wrong to reduce the father’s child support obligation.  The Appellate Division found that the father failed to demonstrate a change in circumstances.  Therefore, the Appellate Division reversed the decision of the trial court but stated that the father is not prohibited from making another request to reduce child support at a later date.

            Please contact our law firm today if you have any questions regarding child support in New Jersey.