Consumption Categories and Child Support Calculations
by Alicia Hutchinson, Esq. (Marlton, NJ Office)
Parents often think that because they are paying for a service for their child—like dance or karate lessons—child support should go down. Or they might think because their child has unusual food needs (for example: the child has a serious food allergy that requires special, more expensive food), child support should go up. This makes sense to people on a gut level. The extra expense is for the shared child, so shouldn’t both parents have to help pay? However, there’s really no easy answer as to whether or not this is true.
The New Jersey Child Support Guidelines are what are used by the courts and by child support hearing officers to determine an appropriate child support amount, unless there is a good reason not to use them. The Guidelines are a formula that gets adjusted periodically which accounts for the AVERAGE costs of a child’s expenses in several “consumption categories”. These consumption categories include things like entertainment, food, and shelter. Pressler & Verniero, Current N.J. Court Rules, Appendix IX-A to R. 5:6A at 2586 (2013).
Unreimbursed medical expenses make a very good example. An unreimbursed medical expense is an expense that will not be covered in full by health insurance. Co-pays, prescription drugs, and non-prescription drugs are all unreimbursed medical expenses. Under New Jersey Court Rules and the Guidelines, the custodial parent pays the first $250 per year per child per calendar year for these expenses before they are split between the parents. That is because the first $250 per year is built into the Guidelines already. By paying child support, the non-custodial parent has already contributed to that first $250 a year. When that gets exhausted—say because the child has asthma and has higher-than-usual costs for medical treatments, or because the child broke her arm that year—then under the Guidelines those added costs gets divided between the parents according to their percentage share of income from the Guidelines.
What about for things other than medical expenses? “To qualify for a deviation based on average costs, a parent must show that the family’s marginal spending on children for all items related to a consumption category differs from the average family.” Id at 2585. If that sounds really arcane and tricky, that’s because it is, and a judge has broad discretion in how they handle them.
Sometimes the Court will increase child support. This is very common with unreimbursed medical expenses when it is well known and predictable that the child’s expenses will exceed $250 per year and by about how much—say because the child has a medical condition that requires regular specialists. Sometimes they will require the other parent to help pay for things separate from child support. For example, they may require the non-custodial parent to pay for half a child’s tutoring or karate lessons, either by making a payment directly to the other parent, or to the provider. Sometimes even if the costs of a consumption category are exceeded, the court will decline to adjust child support or require contribution.
If you believe that you may be entitled to an increase or decrease in child support based on services, goods, and other expenses for your child that you are paying for, call us at 856-227-7888 or email [email protected] to schedule a free consultation.
The above is not specific legal advice nor does it create a lawyer-client relationship. Do not rely upon it without consulting an attorney to see how the information presented fits your unique circumstances.