In breaking news, Chris Rock seeks joint physical custody of the two daughters that he has with his estranged wife. I suppose the fact that I am a child custody lawyer causes me to take note that in nearly every celebrity divorce involving the children, this is the “headline.” Now while I have only met Chris and Malaak Rock once (we sat next to each other once on a flight to Myrtle Beach), and I did take note that he appeared to be an attentive and loving father, I do not know these folks on a personal level. However, as a divorce lawyer, I understand that seeking joint physical custody may simply represent a loving father who wants as much time with his children as possible. In fact, upon filing for divorce Mr. Rock complained that he felt that his wife was purposefully keeping the kids away from him as a form of “punishment” for divorcing her. Hence, he legally seeks joint physical custody of their children.
However, it did not escape me that, in the same article which came out right after the Rock’s announced their divorce, Mr. Rock also alleged that Malaak, “has the ability to work and contribute to her own support. Now while this just may be the divorce lawyer in me, it made me question if he was seeking joint physical custody simply to reduce the amount of child support he would ultimately have to pay to his ex-wife. Now, at this juncture you may be wondering what joint physical custody has to do with a child support figure. Following, please find why, under New Jersey law, joint physical custody versus one parent having primary custody can have a dramatic effect on the amount of child support one must pay. This not only for celebrities, but for middle class people as well. Let’s take a look.
Joint custody. A term that often gets thrown around in a divorce matter when discussing an arrangement regarding the children of the marriage. While most parties end up having joint legal custody of their children (the right to make decisions and be informed about their children), physical custody is where most of the disagreements ensue during a custody/child support matter. There are many people that diligently pursue as close to a 50/50 split of physical custody of the children as possible, because they truly want nothing more than to be with their children. However, there are people that pursue joint physical custody of their children because in New Jersey the same directly correlates to the amount of child support they will be responsible for after the divorce or after their custody case is finished.
Every state has a different method for determining the amount of child support a party must pay the custodial parent or as New Jersey calls them, the Parent of Primary Residence. The non-custodial parent is referred to as the Parent of Alternate Residence. For example, in New York a party pays 17% of their gross income (minus FICA and Medicare) for one child, 25% for two children and 29% for three children. This is a rather simple method for determining child support and the same does not take into account the amount of time each parent spends with the child, and the parties’ incomes are not given much weight unless they are above certain amount or below poverty level. In my opinion the method to work and contribute to her own support.” in New York is much easier when litigating a matter because one never has to wonder or make the argument that the other parent wants more time with the children because it would be financially beneficial for them.
Unfortunately in New Jersey the amount of time you spend with your children directly affects the amount of money that is ordered in child support. This can lengthen the time it takes to resolve a matter because I often find that one party wants the children to spend less time with the paying parent (to receive more support), and the paying parent insists on more time with the children (to pay less support).
In New Jersey, the amount of child support a party is obligated to pay is determined by the New Jersey Child Support Guidelines. The guidelines can be found in the New Jersey Court Rules. The amount of the child support is calculated by imputing certain information into the “Child Support Worksheet.” The information that is most commonly used to compute the child support award is the number of the children, the age of the children, the income of the parties, the amount of overnights that the non-custodial parent has with the child, any alimony that is paid or received, insurance premiums paid for the children and any child care expenses paid.
What changes the amount of child support the most is the amount of overnights a parent spends with the children. The reason for this is because there are two “Worksheets” that are available to a parent when child support is being calculated. There is a “shared parenting worksheet” and a “sole parenting worksheet”. The guidelines presume that the children live in one household. However if a parent has 104 or more overnights per year, the worksheet changes to a “shared worksheet” and as such child support is lower than it would be if one had less than 104 overnights. 104 overnights essentially equates to two overnights every other week and one mid-week overnight every week. If a party were to have just have two overnights every other weekend, that would be a “sole parenting worksheet” as they would only have 52 overnights per year.
Child support generally includes expenses for shelter, food, transportation, clothing and entertainment. What they do not include is extra-curricular activities, and many people agree to those costs in addition to child support. Child support also does not take into consideration expenses for college.
Child support can be adjusted if a party has other legal dependents, government benefits paid to or for the child or if a party has another child support order in place. Additionally, the age of the child may change the amount of support to be paid. The New Jersey guidelines average the cost of a child from birth to 17 years of age. If a child is over 12 years old at the time the guidelines are calculated, the support should be adjusted to take into account the expenses of raising a child that is over 12.
There are times when the Court may deviate from the Child Support Guidelines. For example, the guidelines would not apply to families that have more than six children or if the children are over 18 and living at college. There is however a rebuttable presumption that the amount determined by the guidelines is the correct amount of support to be paid.
One must keep in mind that child support is always subject to a modification, be it an upward or downward modification. The moving party in a downward modification application must show that that there has been a substantial change in circumstances since the support order was entered for the application to be considered by the Court. However, one may move for an upward modification if the payor is making more money than at the time the order was entered. It is important to keep in mind that a change in parenting time could be a basis to modify the support amount.
When going through a child support matter it is always important to stop and think why the custodial parent may be so against the non-custodial parent spending additional time with the children, or why the non-custodial parent is insistent on equal time with the children when they perhaps are always working. Consider that the amount of parenting time you have with your child directly affects the amount of support you will either pay or receive.
If you have any questions with regard to your potential divorce, child custody or child support case, please never hesitate to call our law firm to learn more about how we may help you.