If I Have Equal Parenting Time, Is Child Support Required In New Jersey?

It depends upon the parents’ respective incomes. The lawyers at our law firm located in East Brunswick, New Jersey advise our clients that when there is a true joint residential custody and parenting time arrangement, New Jersey’s child support guidelines account for this equal time and are adjusted accordingly. Now, if one parent has a much greater annual income than the other, there will be a child support component (although the amount will be dramatically less that if the parenting plan was an “every other weekend” scenario). In the following case, please take note that, as the parents’ annual incomes were nearly equivalent, the judge properly ordered that neither party shall pay child support to the other.

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In Raucci v. Valotta, the parties had been in a dating relationship that lasted approximately three years. The parties had one son from the relationship, born in 2014. The parties used mediation, a form of alternate dispute resolution that occurs outside of the courtroom, to solve most of their parenting issues.

The parties entered two consent orders in March 2015 and April 2015. In the consent orders, the parties agreed to a parenting time schedule and to share joint legal custody of their son, meaning both parents would make all the important decisions regarding the child together. The parties also agreed that the father would pay the mother one hundred dollars per week in child support. Although the parties resolved many issues in the consent orders, both parties filed motions with the court in 2016 to address the unsettled issues.

The parties were able to settle all but two issues in a custody agreement that was filed with the court on May 5, 2016. The parties agreed in the custody agreement to continue sharing joint legal custody of the child and that no parent of primary residence would be chosen at the current time, meaning that the child would not live with one parent more than the other. The parties also agreed to a parenting time schedule, which covered a two-week period. The parenting time schedule stated that over the course of two weeks the father would pick the child up late Thursday morning and return him on Friday around noon. The father would also pick the child up late on Monday morning and the mother would pick up the child on Tuesday around noon. Lastly, the father would have the child for the weekend, picking him up on Friday and returning him on Monday. While the parties agreed to this parenting schedule, they could not agree on child support or the number of overnights that the father should be considered having in order to determine child support.

Also on May 5, 2016, the Superior Court of New Jersey, Family Part heard oral arguments on the remaining issues of overnights and child support. The next day, the judge entered an order that stated that the parties’ parenting time schedule was truly 50/50 and that straying from the New Jersey Child Support Guidelines was acceptable. The court also denied the parties’ request for child support and held that the parties would split the child’s healthcare costs.

The mother appealed the Family Part’s decision, arguing that the court was wrong to find that the parenting time schedule was 50/50 and that the court was wrong to deny her request for a plenary hearing to determine which parent the child would live with primarily. A plenary hearing is a hearing held when significant facts are at issue and the parties’ testimony is necessary to resolve the issue. The mother also argued that the court was wrong to give the father equal parenting time under the Child Support Guidelines and to deny her request for child support. The father also appealed the court’s decision. The father argued that the court was mistaken in not requiring the mother to pay the father child support. The father’s argument relies on his claim that he had eight overnights with the child during the two-week period.

On appeal, the New Jersey Appellate Division agreed with and affirmed the decision of the lower court. The Appellate Division noted that its review of the lower court decision is limited to determining if the lower court abused its discretion in modifying child support. The Appellate Division further noted that lower courts have discretion in determining child support and that the lower court decision will only be rejected if the decision was obviously unreasonable or significantly contrary to the evidence. The Appellate Division stated that the parties argued that the lower court was wrong to find that the parties had a 50/50 parenting time schedule, but it reasoned that the parties determined the parenting time schedule themselves. Therefore, the Appellate Division stated that the real question asked of the lower court judge was how many overnights should be considered the father’s during the two-week period. The Appellate Division stated that the father argued he should be credited with two overnights when he picks his son up before noon and returns him after noon the next day. The court agreed with the lower court in rejecting the father’s argument. The Appellate Division found that the lower court judge did not abuse his discretion in finding that the parenting time schedule was 50/50 because the lower court judge had the authority to make such a finding.

The Appellate Division also held that the lower court was correct in denying both parties’ requests for child support. The Appellate Division found that the lower court did not abuse its discretion because the parties’ annual incomes were very close with the father earning $65,000 per year and the mother earning $49,920 per year. Also, the court determined that the parties basically shared equal parenting time, which means that their expenses regarding the child were likely similar. The lower court decided not to adjust child support to account for certain expenses, which the Appellate Division found was in the lower court’s discretion. The Appellate Division also agreed with the lower court in determining that a plenary hearing was unnecessary. The court reasoned that the lower court did not abuse its discretion because the parties agreed that no parent would be chosen as the parent of primary residence in the May 5, 2016 custody agreement. The court agreed that there was no issue of material fact; therefore, the parties’ testimony was not needed and a plenary hearing was not necessary. Lastly, the Appellate Division noted that the May 6, 2016 order was a temporary order and will need to be modified once the child begins attending school, which is stated in the order. Ultimately, the Appellate Division found that the lower court did not abuse its discretion in the May 6, 2016 order, and affirmed the lower court’s decision.

The attorneys at our law firm are all extremely well versed with respect to New Jersey’s child support guidelines. Your inquiry is invited.