For parents involved in family law cases, like divorce or child custody proceedings, it can be difficult to know what information to trust. Some sources online suggest that a parent with 50/50 custody will be able to avoid paying child support. In most cases, that’s not true.

Only if the parents earn equal or about equal income and share 50/50 custody would a person not be ordered to pay support. Even then, the parent would not be avoiding support. They would be financially supporting the child half of the time, during their parenting time.

Many people don’t realize that both parents owe child support. Each parent owes support proportional to their ability to earn money. In a marriage with pooled resources, parents voluntarily share the responsibility to support children.

Many families include two wage-earning spouses. When spouses pool their resources, children enjoy a higher quality of life. After a divorce, the children deserve to continue their former lifestyle.

After parents separate their finances in a divorce, they may not agree on the total amount they should spend on the children’s expenses. The purpose of child support is to ensure children’s support when their parents no longer live together.

New Jersey Child Support Guidelines

In a divorce or in the case of unmarried parents, courts award child support based on the New Jersey Child Support Guidelines. The guidelines base child support on the income of both parents and the average intact family’s child-rearing expenses.

The guidelines put a value on each parent’s fair share of child support expenses. The amount of support owed depends on:

  • Each parent’s fair income, less taxes and deductions
  • Combined net income
  • Each parent’s income

The guidelines also consider each parent’s parenting time.

Usually, the children live with the parent receiving the support check. Many people assume that more parenting time means less child support owed. But 50/50 custody, known as shared parenting, does not relieve the obligation to pay child support.

Parenting time is not the only factor that guidelines use to determine support. The differential between the higher-earning and the lower-earning parent’s salaries impacts total support. This means that even with 50/50 custody, the higher-earning parent’s fair share is higher, too.

What Counts as Income Under the New Jersey Child Support Guidelines?

A parent’s income affects the child support calculation more than parenting time. Income includes earnings from all sources, including:

  • Compensation for services, wages, salaries, tips, commissions
  • Bonuses and severance payments
  • Rentals and royalties from properties
  • Annuities, life insurance payments, trusts, or endowments

Income includes all revenues from a business, less ordinary and necessary operating expenses. 

In New Jersey, the court can impute income to an underemployed or voluntarily unemployed parent. This means the court will calculate child support based on the parent’s income earning potential, in some cases.

If your case involves an underemployed parent, discuss it with an experienced family law attorney.

Add-On Expenses

Certain expenses, like child care or health insurance premiums, are also part of child support. Each parent is responsible for their proportionate share of those expenses each month.

Changing Child Support

If a parent’s financial circumstances change after the court awards child support, the parent may be able to ask for a change in child support. To support a change in child support, the change in circumstances must be substantial. Small changes in income probably will not justify a change in child support. Major changes such as raises or layoffs typically trigger eligibility for a change in child support.

A parent should always talk to an attorney before making any changes to the amount of child support paid. Failing to pay child support as ordered subjects a parent to contempt of court.