May Child Support Be Based Upon My Previous Past Employment and Earnings?

           Yes.  Your traditional income may be imputed upon you by a judge of the Family Part, Middlesex County, New Jersey for purposes of calculating child support.  The child support attorneys at our East Brunswick, New Jersey law firm understand that it is common for a judge of a New Jersey Family Court may look at a parent’s traditional earning history, what profession or occupation that they have been employed for traditionally and the like when that parent is claiming to make less money than they had earned in the past.  Next is this lawyer’s take on a recent case that discusses imputation of income, traditional earning history and present capacity and how New Jersey child support laws and the Rules of Court in N.J. come into play. 

            In Taylor v. Jones, the parties were not married but lived together in Maplewood.  After two years of living together, the parties had a daughter born in October 2014.  The father had two older children from a previous relationship while the mother had a son who was a full-time student at Rutgers University.  The parties separated in April 2015, and the father filed an order to show cause (“OTSC”), which is an order that requires one of the parties to prove or explain something to the court.  In the OTSC, the father asserted that he was not being allowed parenting time with the parties’ daughter or shared custody.  The father filed the OTSC because he disagreed with the mother’s parenting style, which included breast-feeding and attachment parenting.

            After the father filed the OTSC, the mother filed an application for child support.  On May 8, 2015, the Superior Court of New Jersey Family Part judge ordered that the father pay $173 per week plus $17 per week in arrears, or money owed, toward child support.  At this time, the parties agreed to take part in private mediation, which is a form of dispute resolution that takes place out of court.  However, the mediation was unsuccessful and the Family Part judge conducted a plenary hearing, which occurs when significant facts of a case are at issue and the parties’ testimony is necessary to decide such issues.  The plenary hearing took place over six days between November 30, 2015 and January 28, 2016. 

The Family Part judge gave his opinion orally on February 9, 2016.  The judge found that the mother was extremely credible and straightforward.  The judge found that the mother was very sincere and felt she was doing what was in the best interests of the parties’ daughter.  On the other hand, the judge found the father to be unreliable and not credible.  Specifically, the judge felt that the father was trying to avoid financial responsibility of the parties’ daughter, and that the father’s issue with breast-feeding was just another way for the father to control the family.  Furthermore, the judge ordered the parties to share legal and physical custody of their daughter after analyzing the factors listed in N.J.S.A. 9:2-4(c).  The judge also ordered that the mother be the parent of primary residence, meaning the parties’ daughter will live with her mother.  A detailed shared parenting plan was also ordered by the judge and set to begin in 2017 when the child was no longer breast-feeding. 

The Family Part judge increased the father’s child support obligation to $192 per week based on the Child Support Guidelines.  However, the judge ordered that the father’s child support obligation would decrease to $30.05 per week beginning on January 1, 2017.  This order was based on the implementation of the shared parenting time plan that was set to begin in 2017.  The child support obligation was based on the mother’s annual earnings of $52,000 and the father’s annual earnings of $81,600.  The judge concluded that the father was working as a part-time athletic trainer, desk manager of a gym, and owner of a wealth management business.  The judge also concluded that the father was considerably underemployed because he worked in financial services in New York City fifteen years ago, and earned approximately “six figures.”  The judge further concluded that the father’s current employment demonstrated a lack of desire to provide financially for his family.  After determining that the father was underemployed, the judge imputed the father’s income to that of a Personal Financial Advisor.  However, the judge imputed the father’s income to the median earnings of a Personal Financial Advisor, which is $81,600 annually, rather than the average income, which is $108,090.  The judge also imputed the mother’s income based on her tax returns since there was no reason why the mother could not return to work full time.

The Family Part judge also considered the parties’ other children to account for deductions in the child support obligation.  The father received a deduction for his two other children while the mother received a deduction for her son.  The judge reasoned that the mother was allowed a deduction for her son even though he was eighteen and no longer a minor because he was a full-time student at Rutgers. 

The father filed a motion with the court to reconsider the judge’s decision granting the mother a deduction for her son.  The father also argued that his income should not have been imputed at an amount above what he actually made.  Alternatively, the father argued that his income should have been imputed at that of a Financial Analyst and not a Personal Financial Advisor.  On March 30, 2016, the Family Part judge denied the father’s motion for reconsideration and reasoned that the mother’s son is a full-time college student, uses the mother’s home when he is not at school, and the home is the son’s primary residence, which entitles the mother to a deduction.  The judge further noted that the mother’s son has expenses that his scholarship does not cover and the mother is expected to support her son financially.  The judge also repeated his finding that the father was intentionally underemployed and had the ability to earn more money to support his family; therefore, the judge stated that imputing the father’s income was appropriate.  Lastly, the Family Part judge reasoned that the father’s job is to manage money for his clients and not just analyze numbers, which is why imputing the father’s income as that of a Personal Financial Advisor was appropriate.  Furthermore, the judge imputed the father’s income at the median level of a Personal Financial Advisor, which was $81,060, compared to the median level of a Financial Analyst, which was $78,620.  The judge, therefore, reasoned that the slight difference in income was immaterial.

On appeal, the New Jersey Appellate Division noted that motions for reconsideration are managed by Rule 4:49-2, and reconsideration is a matter that is decided with the trial judge’s discretion.  The Appellate Division also noted that reconsideration should not be sought because a party is unhappy with the court’s decision.  Reconsideration is only appropriate if the court’s decision was incorrectly decided or if the court failed to consider adequate evidence.  Also, a motion for reconsideration is not meant as a way for a party to present new evidence that the party failed to present during trial.  The Appellate Division noted that it reviews the trial judge’s denial of the father’s motion for reconsider under the abuse of discretion standard. 

The Appellate Division reviewed the Family Part judge’s decision to deny the father’s motion for reconsideration for abuse of discretion.  After carefully considering the record and the Family Part judge’s findings, the Appellate Division agreed with the Family Part judge’s reasoning and held that there was no abuse of discretion.  Ultimately, the Appellate Division affirmed the decision of the lower court.