Under New Jersey law, both parents are obligated to contribute to the support of their child. The New Jersey Child Support Guidelines provide for payment of both basic and add-on expenses, taking into account a variety of factors including the parties’ incomes, each party’s amount of parenting time, other legal dependents and whether alimony is being paid. The payor’s child support obligation may be modified if he or she has experienced “changed circumstances,” which includes major health issues or permanent disability. It is within the Court’s discretion to determine whether such a change is warranted and if a termination or modification of support is appropriate.
A recent New Jersey case addressed the issue of whether a disabled parent must pay child support. In E.K. v. S.A., the New Jersey Superior Court, Appellate Division decided a matter involving a couple who had divorced and agreed that the payor/father was obligated to pay weekly support based on the parties’ respective imputed incomes. The payor/father was behind in payments when he suffered a stroke and was subsequently adjudicated disabled by the Social Security Administration (SSA). He then moved before the Court seeking to terminate child support going forward and vacate arrears on child support already owed.
The trial court reduced, but did not terminate, the payor/father’s child maintenance obligation or his arrears. The judge recognized that the adjudication of disability by the SSA was a substantial change in circumstances warranting review and modification of the payor/father’s child support obligation. Furthermore, his Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits could not be considered in calculating child support and could not be levied or garnished. However, the judge noted that the SSA found that the payor/father maintained the residual functional capacity to perform some sedentary work. Therefore, the judge determined that the SSA decision left open the possibility that he could work in some capacity. In the absence of any supporting medical documents submitted by the payor/father verifying his inability “to work in any significant capacity,” the judge imputed to him minimum wage income and used that income to calculate his reduced child maintenance obligation. The payor/father appealed the decision.
The Appellate Division agreed with the trial court, holding that a child maintenance order may be entered against a parent who is an SSI recipient when the court concludes that the parent is earning or has the ability to earn income.
If you are the payor or recipient of child support and are addressing the modification of support, legal advice is essential. An experienced family law attorney can assist with preparing a strong case for modification or defending against a proposed modification.
Contact us to learn how we can assist you with your matter.