Child Support in Low Income Families

By: Frank J. Morano, Esq.

The premise of the NJ Child Support Guidelines is to ensure that a child shares the economic benefit of both of their parents’ households.  (NJ Rules of Court, Appendix IX-A).  According to the New Jersey Child Support Guidelines, there are instances where child support can be modified by a Court to something other than what the guidelines calculations reveal.  Many different factors can come into play, one of the biggest being the income of the parties.  Every scenario is fact specific.  Every family has their own set of circumstances that demand adjustments accordingly.  The concept behind the child support guidelines is that for the child to live with one parent to live in poverty and the other in wealth.   The emotional impact of that scenario is a topic for a different blog, but there are obvious disadvantages to both the parents and the children in that case, including a potentially detrimental effect on parent-child relationships.  

N.J. Rule of Court 5:6A states that the guidelines are a rebuttable presumption.  This means that the guidelines should be applied absent some good reason.   New Jersey specifically addresses these issues in Appendix IX-A in the discussion of cases that fall above and below the numbers contemplated in the creation of the guidelines formula. Appendix IX-A (7)(h) addresses the need for a “self-support reserve. ”The Federal Poverty Line for a single person is the gauge that is used to measure whether a single obligor will pay less in order to maintain a basic level of living. If the obligor is living at below 105% of the Federal Poverty Guideline (105% of 2020 Federal Poverty Guideline for a single person in New Jersey is $257.25 per week at this time) the Court may review income and expenditures to make sure that the child support payment does not leave the obligor unable to meet basic living expenses due to paying child support. However, if the parent receiving the child support payment is also living below the 105% Federal Poverty Guideline number (not including the child support payment) then the Court shall not alter the obligor’s payment.  

A judge’s review of an obligor’s income and ability to pay is very important in a low-income child support case, and both parties actual employment should be carefully reviewed to ensure that neither party is voluntarily under-employed or voluntarily unemployed.  A consideration of level of education, history of employment, available jobs in the community, and skill set should all be taken into consideration.  Again, this is a case by case analysis.  By way of example, if a doctor decides that they are going to leave their six-figure job to work in the local diner because they do not want to pay more child support, there is, of course, a problem.  The court can examine the situation to determine why their income is at that level.  If the court finds that the doctor is engaging in voluntary underemployment with no reasonable basis, it may impute income using employment history as a guide. (Caplan v. Caplan, 182 N.J. 250 (2005). However, in a situation where the obligor has a limited education or work experience and there are only minimum wage jobs available to them, the judge may take that into consideration when re-evaluating the amount set for child support.  The court should consider all of the factors under and N.J.S.A. 2A:34-23 as to income child support.  Of course, that amount may again be modified if the obligor advances to an amount above 105% of the poverty line because that would be a change in circumstances that would merit the reevaluation of the calculations.   

Child support in low income cases can be complex.  Evaluating each party’s situation: their income, work history, and their lifestyle is important to arriving at what financial arrangement is best for the children.  

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