As a divorce and family law firm has handled countless child support matters over the, I know first hand that one of the most popular questions we are asked as New Jersey child support is, “What exactly is included in the New Jersey Child Support Guidelines?” This seems to be such a popular question for family law and divorce attorneys because, as many of you know, child support can be quite expensive and is a huge aspect of divorces involving children. While some expenses might seem obvious, such as food, clothing, and shelter, there are many more expenses included in the Guidelines that parents are responsible for. For example, the new case of Elrom v. Elrom explained that the cost of certain extracurricular activities is included in New Jersey’s Child Support Guidelines.
In the case the parties married in February 2005 and separated in September 2010. Two children were born of the marriage, one in 2008 and the other in 2010. The wife was a licensed attorney in New York and New Jersey. When she first got married, she worked in Newark earning $102,000 per year. Subsequently, she began working at a New York firm and earned $175,000 per year. However, at the start of 2008, the wife was laid off. She agreed to stay home and raise the children, but entertained the idea of working part-time. In 2009, she started working part-time, approximately 15 hours per week. Yet, when the parties separated, the wife started to work 26 hours per week. She finally found another full time job as an associate, earning $80,640 per year, but lost her job right before the trial.
On the other hand, the husband was a software engineer, technical writer, web developer, and entrepreneur. His annual salary tended to fluctuate since he worked for various companies such as MTV and HBO; however, he always earned a good living. For instance, while working for HBO he earned $193,375 per year. In addition, the husband owned a limited liability corporation called Elrom, which performed consulting services, sponsored an annual technology trade show, and participated in many start-up companies.
At the time of the trial, the wife produced documents as proof of her husband’s income and explained that he was not acquiescent to her discovery demands. She asserted that while married, her husband received additional income from clients under the table and royalties from three books he wrote. She also found that that her husband started a company in Vegas in February 2012, called Effective Idea, and withdrew funds from Elrom’s account, which he transferred to an account at Banca Privada d’Andorra. The husband admitted that the Andorra account held $67,978.
Furthermore, the parties testified that they led an upper middle class lifestyle before their children were born. They owned an apartment in NYC and a home in Englewood, New Jersey. After the parties separated, the husband moved into the NYC apartment, while the wife and children moved in with her parents in Montville, New Jersey. The wife had residential custody of the children.
When the trial court granted the wife’s request for a divorce, it ordered the husband to pay, among other things, child support in the amount of $697 per week. The amount included insurance premiums and work-related childcare expenses. The court further ordered the husband to pay additional child support—50% of the children’s uncovered medical costs exceeding $250 per child, and 50% of the children’s extracurricular and sporting activity fees, provided he consented to their participation in such activities in advance. However, the husband objected and appealed.
On appeal, the husband alleged that the trial judge erred in adding the children’s extracurricular activity costs as additional child support. The Appellate Division looked to New Jersey’s Child Support Guidelines to form its analysis. In particular, the Guidelines specify a child support award includes “entertainment expenditures, specifically fees, memberships and admissions to sports, recreational, or social events, lessons or instructions, movie rentals, televisions, mobile devices, sound equipment, pets, hobbies, toys, playground equipment, photographic equipment, film processing, video games, and recreational, exercise or sports equipment.”
However, the court further explained that not all extracurricular expenses are included in a parent’s basic support obligation. Therefore, at times it is appropriate for them to being treated as additional child support. Looking to paragraph 9 of Appendix IX-A of the Guidelines, the court stated “because some child-related expenses represent large or variable expenditures…it is not appropriate to include them in the basic child support awards. If incurred in a particular case, these expenses should be added to the basic support obligation as extraordinary expenses.” The New Jersey Appellate Division defined extraordinary expenses to include private elementary or secondary education, special needs of gifted or disabled children and NCP/PAR time transportation expenses.
The New Jersey Appellate Division noted that the key to determining whether the expense was extraordinary or not was to determine if it was both predictable and recurring. Since the activities the children were participating in were not predictable and recurring, the court believed that they did not constitute extraordinary expenses. Therefore, the court determined that the trial court erred because it should not have ordered the husband to pay additional support for the activities. Accordingly, the court reversed the findings of the trial court.
The main takeaway from Elrom is that the cost of only certain extracurricular activities is already included in New Jersey’s Child Support Guidelines and that it is possible that a parent will have to pay additional support to cover their costs. Therefore, I recommend to my clients that they should include language addressing extracurricular expenses in their settlement agreements to avoid any disagreements down the road. For more questions on this red-hot area of the law, please contact my office today.