Dear Cassie: I’ve heard of the child support guidelines, but I don’t really understand how they work. My husband makes a lot of money. If I have custody of our children in the divorce, will I receive child support pursuant to the child support guidelines? -C.C.
Dear C.C.: The Child Support Guidelines is, in essence, a formula used to determine child support in New Jersey. The foundation of the Child Support Guidelines is estimates of what parents in intact families spend on their children. The guidelines then use that data to attempt to replicate that spending in the form of a child support obligation for divorced or separated families. The major factors that typically influence the child support determination the most include the incomes of the parties (including alimony paid or received), and the custody and parenting time arrangements in that case.
That said, the Child Support Guidelines only apply up to a certain level of income. Specifically, “[i]f the combined net income of the parents is more than $187,200 per year, the court shall apply the guidelines up to $187,200 and supplement the guidelines-based award with a discretionary amount based on the remaining family income (i.e., income in excess of $187,200) and the factors specified in N.J.S.A. 2A:34-23 [the New Jersey statute addressing child support].” Appendix IX-A, 20(b) of R. 5:6A. In essence, what this means is that the court will apply the guidelines up to a certain net (after tax) income level, then supplement that amount based on the facts and specifics of that particular family.
New Jersey case law is clear that child support for above-guidelines cases is, above all, established based upon the actual needs of the children. Moreover, there is a limit to the amount of child support to be paid, notwithstanding the ability of the payor to contribute to this support. This is sometimes referred to as the “three pony rule:” “[t]hat is, no child, no matter how wealthy the parents, needs to be provided more than three ponies.” Isaacson v. Isaacson, 348 N.J. Super. 560, 583 (App. Div. 2002). Thus, the custodial parent bears the burden of establishing the reasonableness of claimed child-related expenses.
With all of the above as a backdrop, the answer to your question is, it depends on the facts of your case. You should discuss with your attorney in detail how child support in your case will be calculated, and whether the net incomes of the parties exceed the guidelines amount, thus necessitating an above-guidelines child support award.
If you are dealing with the issue of child support, you should seek the advice of matrimonial counsel.
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Cassie Murphy is a divorce and family law Partner with the Law Offices of Paone, Zaleski & Murphy, with offices in Red Bank and Woodbridge.