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Child Support – What Expenses Does it Cover in ‘Guideline Cases?’

In the State of New Jersey, in those cases in which the parents’ Combined Net Annual Income is less than $187,200 per year, child support is fixed by pre-determined “Guidelines.” These are referred to as “Guidelines Cases.” The most important factors which drive the Guidelines formula are the parents’ respective incomes, the designation of Parent of Primary Residence (the PPR) and the Parent of Alternate Residence (the PAR) and the number of overnights the children spend with each parent per year. In fact, the number of overnights dictates which worksheet (a Sole Parenting Worksheet or a Shared Parenting Worksheet) will be used to determine child support, with the amount of child support differing significantly between the two Worksheets.

Once the amount of child support is calculated, parents want to know what expenses are covered by the child support. The answer to this question is in the New Jersey Rules of Court. They are as follow:

Food – All food and non-alcoholic beverages purchased for home consumption or purchased away from home (including vending machines, restaurants, tips, school meals and catered affairs). Non-food items (e.g., tissue papers, alcoholic beverages, cigarettes) are not included.

Clothing – All children’s clothing, footwear (except special footwear for sports), diapers, repairs or alterations to clothing and footwear, storage, dry cleaning, laundry, watches, and jewelry.

Entertainment – Fees, memberships and admissions to sports, recreational, or social events, lessons or instructions, movie rentals, televisions, radios, sound equipment, pets, hobbies, toys, playground equipment, photographic equipment, film processing, video games, and recreational, exercise or sports equipment.

Miscellaneous Items – Personal care products and services (e.g., hair, shaving, cosmetics), books and magazines, education (e.g., tuition, books, supplies), cash contributions, personal insurance, and finance charges (except those for mortgage and vehicle purchases).

These expenses do not include child care costs, which are factored separately into the Guidelines but only if they are work-related child care costs. If they are not work-related child care costs then the PAR is not expected to contribute to them.

Two types of problems arise predictably from the use of the child support Guidelines: First, while the children are in the care of the PAR, the reality is that the PAR will often incur many of the day-to-day expenses intended to be paid for with the child support paid to the the PPR. Thus, the PAR is actually paying for the same items twice. Second, the Guidelines are based upon an “average” family and therefore do not cover expenses that the “average” family does not incur, such as private school education costs, the cost of special needs children (gifted or disabled), expensive sports or activities and the like. Sometimes, the parties agree that these expenses will be shared by both parties in proportion to their incomes in addition to the payment of child support. However, disagreements often arise between the parents as to whether those types of expenses can or should be incurred and split between them after the divorce or separation. Most commonly, the reason for the disagreement is that it has become too expensive for one of the parents to afford an expense that the family may have been able to afford before the separation or divorce.

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