ALIMONY & CHILD SUPPORT
Support payments as a result of a divorce are meant to assist the dependent spouse and children. Although neither party is entitled to live better than the other, the court attempts to fashion a decision that allows both parties and the children to maintain a lifestyle similar to the marital lifestyle. The court will decide what is “fit, reasonable, and just.”
In reality, other than custody, alimony is usually the most difficult decision to make in a divorce. The statute names 14 factors. The main factors in most cases are whether there is a disparity of income, whether the dependent spouse has a need for support, whether the payor spouse has the ability to help, the marital lifestyle and the length of the marriage. There are other factors such as the age and health of the parties, responsibility for child rearing, and others. In fact, though, the statue states that no factor should be elevated in importance over any other factor unless the court finds otherwise, which means a Court would need decide after a trial.
In deciding the proper alimony, it is critical to understand the income(s) and spending during the marriage. This may be relatively simple when people are W-2 employees. However, if either party has a business or is unemployed or underemployed, this can be somewhat difficult. The Court utilizes a form called a Case Information Statement that is very through in prompting the parties to create a snapshot of their financial picture. Mediators and attorneys utilize this form, or something similar, to understand the marital lifestyle, income and needs of the family, required for making support decisions.
Unfortunately, most families are not usually positioned to maintain two households with the same income they have been earning. Even if they have been saving, there will be less to save. It is important to first understand the current financial situation. Generally, in litigation the Court focuses on the past. In mediation or collaborative divorce, the parties have the opportunity to anticipate their future expenses and make realistic decisions for themselves.
Child support is meant to be used for the care of the children but is determined after alimony is settled. In New Jersey, both parties are obligated to support their children from the time they are born through their emancipation. Emancipation is a legal term meaning that a child has moved beyond the influence of their parents, which can be defined in an agreement by the parents.
In 2020, if the parents combined net income is $3,600 or less per week, the New Jersey Child Support Guidelines are generally utilized to determine child support, unless there is a reason to deviate. If parents earn greater than $3,600 net per week, the court needs to add a discretionary amount to the minimum basic award of the guidelines. Should the Guidelines be applicable, the information required includes the gross incomes of the parents, the amount of alimony, the number of overnights with each parent, the cost of the children’s share of the health insurance, and other information. This data is plugged into one of several computer programs, that will generate the proper child support according to the Court rules.