In New Jersey, the basic amount of child support is calculated according to a formula – the New Jersey Child Support Guidelines. Depending on several variables such as the parties’ incomes, the amount of parenting time each party has, and whether alimony is being paid, the Child Support Guidelines program will calculate the basic amount of child support to be paid. Frequently, one or both parties may want a higher or lower amount of support than what was calculated by the guidelines. Does New Jersey law allow parents to “deviate” from the amount determined by this formula?
In fact, Court Rules allow New Jersey Courts to deviate from the Child Support Guidelines, provided that the Court explains in writing why it is appropriate to do so. Appendix IX-A, Paragraph 3 to the Child Support Guidelines provides:
If the court finds that the guidelines are inappropriate in a specific case, it may either disregard the guidelines or adjust the guidelines-based award to accommodate the needs of the children or the parents’ circumstances. If the support guidelines are not applied in a specific case or the guidelines-based award is adjusted, the reason for the deviation and the amount of the guidelines-based award (before any adjustment) must be specified in writing on the guidelines worksheet or in the support order. Such findings clarify the basis for the support order if appealed or modified in the future. If the guidelines are found to be inapplicable in a particular case, the court should consider the factors set forth in N.J.S.A. 2A:34-23 or N.J.S.A. 9:17-53 when establishing the child support award.
Accordingly, when a Court decides to deviate from the Child Support Guidelines, it must explain its reasoning in writing. Not only does this help the parties understand why the Court decided to deviate, but it also helps the parties show why the amount was changed should they find themselves in a dispute over child support in the future. Frequently, circumstances change over time and the reason(s) for the deviation may not exist anymore.
Parties are well-advised to do the same thing that Courts are required to do. If, for whatever reason, parties agree to deviate from the Child Support Guidelines, it is critical to put in writing the specific reasons as to why they are doing so. If there is no explanation (or worse, the only reason given is “for personal reasons”), it will be very difficult in the future to change child support or even simply revert to the basic child support calculation. For instance, if two parents agree to a reduced level of child support for “personal reasons” but circumstances change in the future (such as loss of employment, change in alimony or parenting time), the parties may be stuck with the agreed-upon level of child support. Trying to explain to a Court why the deviation took place, and why the deviation should be rescinded, will likely be an expensive, complicated, and potentially fruitless endeavor.
Although the guidelines are designed to prevent disputes, the parties may have concerns about the amount of support and should speak to an experienced matrimonial attorney for advice. If you are considering divorce and have children, contact us to discuss how we can help you negotiate, mediate and litigate the intricate details of child support.