In New Jersey, child support payments are determined by the NJ Child Support Guidelines for families with a combined net (after tax) income of between $8,840/year ($170/week) and $187,200/year ($3600/week).

When incomes fall outside of this range, the guidelines no longer apply. The NJ Child Support Guidelines also do not apply if your child is attending college and living at school.

These scenarios require creative solutions, because there is no governing structure to guide the process. Families are expected to figure it out on their own, or let a judge decide.

We always recommend that child support payments be a family decision made through mediation or negotiation, if possible. These approaches allow parents to maintain control over the decision-making process, rather than risking the opinion of a judge.

Your child support arrangement will depend on the individual facts of your case:

1) If income exceeds the cap, but the child is not attending college

The court is legally prohibited from “extrapolating” the NJ Child Support Guidelines, which means that judges are not supposed to apply the guidelines to cases that don’t fit the criteria. However, families trying to reach an agreement outside of court will often start with a Guidelines analysis as an unofficial starting point, then adjust the payment amount based on the child’s needs.

After revisiting the Case Information Statements, both parties will have to examine how money is currently allocated within the family. In other words, who is currently paying for what? If both parties can’t agree on what money is going where, they might have to hire a forensic accountant to conduct a “lifestyle analysis,” which will show how the family spent money in the past.

When examining the family finances, it’s important to understand that child support is determined more by lifestyle and income, than assets. For example, let’s say you have two families:

  • Family A: Has income above the NJ Child Support Guidelines, $3 million in assets, a $700,000 house, lives a relatively frugal lifestyle, and takes one annual family vacation
  • Family B: Has income above the NJ Child Support Guidelines, $3 million in assets, a $1.5 million house, buys new clothes for the child every season, and takes four family vacations each year, which include first class plane tickets and five-star hotels

Even though both families have the same total assets, Family B would likely have a higher child support payment than Family A.

2) If income exceeds the cap, and the child is attending college

Like the first scenario, families will often start with a Guidelines analysis as an unofficial starting point, then adjust the payment amount based on the child’s needs, lifestyle, and current financial dynamic within the family.

Parents need to consider the child’s cost of living that is already provided through room, board, and tuition. Does the child have a job? Are the parents still paying for the child’s clothes, cell phone, food, and other expenses associated with recreational activities?

Cost of living can also vary widely based on the location of the college campus. It would take more money to support a child attending school in Manhattan, than it would to support a child attending school in central Pennsylvania.

Mediation or negotiation is highly recommended in this scenario, since it is a legal area on which many judges disagree. Some judges believe it costs less money to support a child in college than it does to support a child at home, and decide on lower support payments as a result. Other judges believe the opposite, and decide on higher support payments.

Find a New Jersey Divorce Lawyer Focused Exclusively on Family Law

Determining child support payments outside the structure of the New Jersey Child Support Guidelines can be highly subjective. You should always meet with an experienced New Jersey divorce lawyer to discuss the facts of your case, and the specific needs of your children.

In most cases, the best decision is a family decision.