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Articles Posted in Child Support

If you want to get a child support or alimony order changed in New Jersey, you have to show that the circumstances have changed in a way that justifies the change. As the State’s Superior Court recently explained, judges are expected to compare the circumstances in place at the time the award was set to those in place at the time the request is made.

workersHusband and Wife divorced in 2012, following 11 years of marriage in which they had two kids. Husband was working as a loan officer at the time, bringing in about $24,000 per year. He was ordered to pay $231 a month in combined alimony and child support. That order was still in place two years later, when Husband went back to court and asked a judge to modify the arrangement. He said he’d been laid off due to an economic downturn and was unable to find a new job. Husband also said he’d lost his professional license as a result of poor credit and had lost money in real estate investments.

The trial court denied Husband’s motion to modify the support order. The judge said she wasn’t inclined to change the order so soon after an eight-day trial on the issue. She also found that Husband remained “capable of working” and “doing more.” As a result, the judge said Husband had not proved a sufficient change in circumstances to justify reducing the support award. Although Husband argued in a motion for reconsideration that Wife was living with her new boyfriend and had the capacity to make more money, the court said he didn’t present enough evidence to prove those claims.

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When a couple with kids decides to divorce, they often consider how they might pay for their children’s potential college costs down the road. In New Jersey, a parent’s responsibility to pay child support and college expenses past the child’s 18th birthday is standard. However, As New Jersey’s Superior Court recently explained, the law requires courts to follow specific procedures in considering the arrangement.

school kidsHusband and Wife divorced in 2002, following more than nine years of marriage. They entered into a settlement agreement as part of the divorce, under which the couple agreed to share legal and physical custody of their two daughters. They also initially agreed that Husband would pay Wife about $140 a month in child support, and they later agreed to kick that amount up to $800 per month in 2009. The agreement further provided that each former spouse would be equally on the hook for their kids’ net college expenses, or the expenses after any available financial assistance like loans, grants, and scholarships.

The former spouses wound up back in court after a dust up over their oldest daughter’s college expenses in the fall of 2012. Daughter was awarded an extensive financial assistance package from her school, but additional loans were also required to make up the difference. A trial court granted in part Husband’s request to modify the child support arrangement. The court found that a certain PLUS loan being used to finance part of Daughter’s schooling was only available to parents and that Husband and Wife were jointly responsible for paying it.

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Child custody and support matters involve complicated legal issues that require the counsel of an experienced attorney. There are specific types of custody which have legal significance affecting each parents’ rights, responsibilities and the status of the children.  In any proceeding involving the custody of a minor child, the rights of both parents are equal.  It is the public policy of the State of New Jersey to assure minor children of frequent and continuing contact with both parents after they have separated and dissolved their marriage.  It is in the public interest to encourage parents to share the rights and responsibilities of child rearing.  Parents must be fully informed about the implications of custodial terms and what they mean.  A Court will normally grant joint legal custody unless one parent has been found to be unfit.  Unless a parent’s rights are terminated and someone else has adopted the child, the parent still is responsible for child support.

When entering into a custody agreement, parents must never assume that it can easily be changed.  If there is a significant change of circumstances and the parents are unable to agree on a change of custody including a change in parenting time or removal, an action is brought into Court.  This can entail a process involving expert witnesses and litigation.  In making an award of custody, the Court shall consider, but not be limited to the following factors:

a.  the parents’ ability to agree, communicate and cooperate in matters relating to the child;

b.  the parents’ willingness to accept custody and any history of unwillingness to allow parenting time not based on substantiated abuse;

c.  the interaction and relationship of the child with its parents and siblings;

d.  the history of domestic violence, if any;

e.  the safety of the child and the safety of either parent from physical abuse by the other parent;

f.  the preference of the child when of sufficient age and capacity to reason so as to form an intelligent decision;

g.  the needs of the child;

h.  the stability of the home environment offered;

i.  the quality and continuity of the child’s education;

j.  the fitness of the parents;

k.  the geographical proximity of the parents’ homes;

l.  the extent and quality of the time spent with the child prior to or subsequent to the separation;

m.  the parent’s employment responsibilites;

n.  the age and number of children.

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One question that regularly comes up is what happens when one parent wants to move away. Past judicial decisions require the custodial parent to demonstrate a benefit of the move before the Court will grant removal.  Other decisions have been based on whether the children will suffer from it.

The custodial parent must first establish a good faith reason to move out of State.  The Court will then determine whether the move is against the child’s best interests or if it will adversely affect the visitation rights of the non-custodial parent.  A reasonable visitation schedule will have to be developed.  It is a recognized factor that it is in the child’s best interest to have frequent contact with both parents.

Where neither parent was the primary residential custodian, custody to one parent will first have to be changed.  If there is no agreement, this will entail a best interest evaluation.  The parent who then becomes the parent of primary residence will have to go through the steps required for approval to remove the child.

In the case of Baures v. Lewis, an application to remove a child from the jurisdiction over the non-custodial parent’s objection, the Court looked to the following factors:  a.  reasons for move; b.  reasons given for opposition; c.  past history of dealings between parties insofar as it bears on reasons advanced by both parties for supporting and opposing move; d.  whether the child will receive education, health and leisure opportunities at least equal to what is available here; e.  any special needs or talents of the child that require accommodation  and whether such accommodation or its equivalent is available in the new location; f.  whether a visitation and communication schedule can be developed that will allow the non-custodial parent to maintain a full and continuous relationship with the child; g.  the likelihood that the custodial parent will continue to foster the child’s relationship with the non-custodial parent if the move is allowed; h.  the effect of move on the extended family relationships here and in the new location;  i.  if child is of age, his or her preference; j.  whether the child is entering his or her senior year in high school, at which point he or she should generally not be moved until graduation, without his or her consent; k.  whether the non-custodial parent has the ability to relocate; and l. any other factor bearing on the child’s best interest.

New Jersey’s Superior Court recently examined a case in which one parent’s decision to move to Florida and send her child to live with her father in the meantime was considered a “de facto” agreement to change the parents’ existing child custody arrangement.

welcome-to-florida-1484292Mother and Father divorced in 2009, following a 20-year marriage in which the couple had four children. They agreed to share joint legal custody of the kids, with Father assuming primary physical custody of the two boys and Mother assuming primary physical custody of the two girls. The couple’s younger daughter later went to live with Father. The couple had initially agreed to share physical custody of Daughter, but Mother moved to Florida about five months later.

Mother later asked a court to enforce the shared physical custody arrangement. She claimed that Husband had “encroached” on her relationship with Daughter and had refused to allow them to spend time together when Mother visited New Jersey. A trial judge denied the request. The judge tentatively ordered that Husband have primary physical custody and that Wife be allowed liberal visitation time. The judge also tentatively ordered Mother to pay Husband $100 per month in child support for Daughter. Mother’s attorney advised the judge that she agreed to the order, which then became final.

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One of the factors that courts look at in setting a child support award is each parent’s income. As New Jersey’s Superior Court explained in a recent ruling, a judge has the right to consider both what a parent is actually making and what he or she could be making.

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Husband and Wife were married for roughly 18 years and had two children before divorcing in 2002. The spouses entered into a negotiated agreement as part of the divorce, under which Husband agreed to pay Wife $1,000 per month in child support. Wife, in turn, was granted primary custody of the kids. A court later increased Husband’s child support obligation to more than $5,000 per month in 2006.

The judge found, among other things, that Husband was bringing in about $200,000 per year in base pay and bonuses from his mortgage and credit counseling job. Wife, on the other hand, was making just over $76,000 per year. Husband later asked the court to reduce the child support award, asserting that he was let go from his job in 2011. He briefly moved to Florida, married twice, and then went to live with his parents in New Jersey in 2012. Husband said that his unemployment insurance benefits eventually ran dry, and he became economically dependent on his parents, whom he said were giving him about $2,000 per month. He said he didn’t file tax returns for 2012 and 2013 because he had no income during that time.

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Things change after spouses divorce, including their area codes. When they have kids, one parent’s decision to move to another state can raise a number of legal issues related to child custody and support. New Jersey’s Superior Court recently looked at one of those issues:  which court should have the authority to consider changes to a child support order after the spouses have gone their separate ways?

mapHusband and Wife were married in New Jersey but later moved to Georgia in 1999. They were still living in the Peach State in 2004 when they divorced. A judge in Georgia ordered Husband to pay Wife $3,500 in monthly child support, which the judge said was about a quarter of his income at the time. Wife later moved back to New Jersey with the kids, while Husband remained in Georgia.

The Georgia court reduced Husband’s support obligation by nearly half in 2013, finding that one of the couple’s children had since graduated high school and turned 18. Wife responded by filing suit in New Jersey. She asked a court there to set a new child support amount, arguing that Husband understated his monthly income during the Georgia court proceedings. A New Jersey judge dismissed the case, explaining that the Georgia court had continuing and exclusive jurisdiction over all matters related to the original child support case.

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Outside of Court with a Settlement Agreement, divorcing spouses can efficiently and effectively resolve some or all of the issues related to their divorce. The contracts allow the spouses to decide between themselves how assets will be divided, custody will be handled, and any support payments will be calculated, rather than leaving these questions to a judge. It’s important to remember that, once you sign an agreement, you are responsible for living up to it. That was the main takeaway from a recent Superior Court decision in which the court enforced an agreement requiring former spouses to pay for their child’s college expenses. old-books-1057004

Mother and Father divorced in 2001, following roughly eight years of marriage in which the couple had one daughter. They entered into a settlement agreement as part of the divorce, under which the former spouses agreed to split the costs for Daughter’s post-high-school education proportionately. The obligation, according to the agreement, was to be based on each parent’s gross income, as determined by tax returns and other forms of verification.

Unfortunately, the Court said Father and Daughter did not have much of a relationship after the divorce. Although they were ordered to attend counseling sessions, those fizzled out while the Daughter was in high school. She was later accepted to an engineering school, and the Wife went back to court asking a judge to force Husband to pay his share of the expenses. Husband responded by filing a motion to compel Daughter to go to a less expensive school. The trial court eventually ordered Husband to pay 77 percent of the college costs, based on his gross income.

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Child support and visitation are just some of the issues that regularly come up in New Jersey family law cases. Although many of these issues can often be resolved by agreement between spouses or parents, some must eventually be hammered out by a judge. If you are not satisfied with the Trial Court’s decision, you have the right to appeal it.   You should, however, carefully consider the factors on appeal.  It is a costly and time-consuming process that must make sense to pursue.  As a recent case out of New Jersey’s Superior Court shows Appeal Courts are often highly deferential to a trial judge’s findings about the facts of the case.  Family Court judges have wide discretion.

child-on-the-beach-1505504Mother and Father divorced in June 2013, following roughly 17 years of marriage. They eventually agreed to share legal custody of their children, with Mother retaining primary physical custody of the kids. Father agreed that his visitation time with the children would be supervised. Five years later, he later went back to court to have the supervision lifted. After hearing testimony from a number of parenting and custody experts, the trial judge sided with Father. The judge found that there was no reason that Father’s time with the children should be supervised.

The trial judge also reduced Father’s monthly support payments. He had been paying Mother more than $600 per month in child support based on the original Order; however, the Trial Court found that Father should have been responsible for about $200 less a month based on child support guidelines that are used to set support levels. The Court felt there was a prior mistake in the child support figure.  As a result, the court also credited Father for the over payments.

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