Edward R. Weinstein, Esq.Edward R. Weinstein, Esq.

May My Child Support Be Retroactively Reduced In New Jersey?

            No.  A judge of a the Family Part of the Superior Court of New Jersey cannot change the amount of child support that a parent is required to pay and further back than the date the your lawyer filed the motion to a New Jersey Family Court.  The child support attorneys at our East Brunswick, New Jersey law firm recently reviewed a recent case4 addressing this issue. 

            In Scott v. Scott, father Gregory Scott appealed from numerous orders entered by the Superior Court of New Jersey between September 25, 2013, and September 30, 2015. The New Jersey Appellate Division found that most of Gregory’s appeals were untimely, but addressed the issue of retroactivity of the child support obligation reduction and held that New Jersey Statute 2A:17-56.23a prohibited a Family Part court from retroactively modifying a child support obligation to a date before the filing of the motion seeking that same relief. According to New Jersey Statute 2A:17-56.23a, there is a limit to the extent to which a judge can retroactively modify a child support obligation. Any retroactive modification of child support is limited to the time period between the date of filing the motion for modification and the date the order is issued. The New Jersey Appellate Division stated that the statute clearly and unequivocally prohibits the Family Part from retroactively modifying a parent’s child support obligation to a date before the filing of the motion seeking the same relief. The appellate panel stated the when, as is the case here, a law is unambiguous and clear, the New Jersey Appellate Division has no choice but to enforce that law according to its enumerated terms.

            Gregory and Amy Scott got married in August 1993, and had three children together. They divorced in the June of 2007. According to the mutually agreed to property settlement that was incorporated into their dual final judgment of divorce, the parents would have joint legal and shared physical custody of their children, and Amy would serve as the parent of primary residence. The property settlement agreement obligated Gregory to pay Amy $ 1,205 a month in child support, or $ 280.23 per week, which was scheduled to begin on July 1, 2007. Additionally, his parenting time was set on alternate weekends starting on Friday at 6:00 p.m. until Sunday at 8:00 p.m., and every Wednesday from 6:00 p.m. until Thursday morning when the children would be picked up for school. The property settlement agreement also required both parents to provide for the children’s expenses and any extracurricular activity in proportion to their respective incomes as established by the child support guidelines.

            Amy filed a motion to enforce the child support provisions enumerated in the property settlement agreement in December 2010, because of Gregory’s decision to reduce his support payments and failure to pay for his part of the children’s extracurricular activity and medical expenses. Gregory responded by filing a cross-motion to modify his support obligation on January 20, 2011, based on an alleged reduction in income.

            On September 25, 2013, after a seven day hearing, the Family Part entered an order that ordered Gregory to pay his ex-wife $ 23,483.96 to account for unreimbursed extracurricular activity and medical expenses, and an additional $ 8,400 in counsel fees. In addition, the Family Part modified Gregory’s child support obligation to $ 271 a week, retroactive to January 20, 2011. The court, however, incorrectly used a sole parenting worksheet to calculate the child support obligation. The worksheet mistakenly listed that Gregory had no parenting time, even though he enjoyed shared physical custody of the children and had 104 overnight days with them according to the property settlement agreement.

            Gregory filed a motion for reconsideration on October 16, 2013. He challenged the Family Part’s incorrect use of the sole parenting time worksheet to calculate his child support obligation. The court denied the motion on January 2, 2014 and ordered Gregory to make the child support payments as required by the September 25, 2013. Additionally, the order required Amy’s lawyer to recalculate child support, retroactive to January 20, 2011, this time using the correct worksheet. Gregory filed a motion for reconsideration of the January 2, 2014 order as well. He requested a recalculation of child support, a vacation of the counsel fee award, and a new plenary hearing. On April 9, 2014, Amy’s lawyer submitted a child support recalculation that set Gregory’s obligation at $ 197 every week, this time using the shared parenting time worksheet which took into consideration the 104 overnights Gregory had with the kids.

            The Family Part entered an order on April 11, 2014 that denied Gregory’s motion for reconsideration, but allowed him to either challenge the child support recalculations by showing any error Amy’s lawyer might have made, or to do his own calculation and ask the court to adopt it. Gregory never submitted his own calculation, nor did he appeal from the September 25, 2013, January 2, 2014, or April 11, 2014 orders.

            The New Jersey Appellate Division stated that the time to appeal these three orders had long expired when he filed his November 14, 2014 motion for recalculation and modification of the child support payments retroactive to January 20, 2011. He based this motion on the Family Part’s incorrect use of the sole parenting worksheet and the failure of Amy’s lawyer to submit a new calculation. The Family Part entered an order on February 13, 2015 that modified his child support obligation to $ 118 week, retroactive to November 14, 2014, the date the motion was filed. The Family Part refused to modify Gregory’s child support obligation retroactive to January 20, 2011, citing New Jersey Statute 2A:17-56.23a. The Family Part had found that the order dated April 11, 2014, that allowed Gregory to challenge Amy’s lawyer’s recalculation of child support, did not preserve his right to challenge the order dated January 20, 2011, nor did it preserve his right to apply and seek to retroactively modify his child support obligation back to January 20, 2011.

            On April 23, 2015, Gregory filed a notice of appeal from all the orders entered between September 25, 2013 through April 10, 2015. The New Jersey Appellate Division found that the appeal of the orders dated September 25, 2013, January 2, 2014, and April 11, 2014 were untimely, and limited their review to the issue of retroactivity.

            Gregory argued that the Family Part committed error by modifying his child support obligation retroactively to January 20, 2011. The New Jersey Appellate Division held that his argument lacked merit. According to New Jersey Statute 2A:17-56.23a, there is a limit to the extent to which a judge can retroactively modify a child support obligation. Any retroactive modification of child support is limited to the time period between the date of filing the motion for modification and the date the order is issued.

            The New Jersey Appellate Division stated that the statute clearly and unequivocally prohibits the Family Part from retroactively modifying a parent’s child support obligation to a date before the filing of the motion seeking the same relief. The appellate panel stated the when, as is the case here, a law is unambiguous and clear, the New Jersey Appellate Division has no choice but to enforce that law according to its enumerated terms. As such, the appellate panel affirmed the orders of the Family Part.

            Our law firm is here to help you with any legal assistance you may need regarding child support here in New Jersey.