Calculating how much each parent owes in child support is one of the most complex parts of a divorce or custody case. Now, with the expansion of the modern family in today’s society, these calculations have become even more difficult for judges to determine. Today’s children may have parents who also have other families or kids with other partners, and their child support obligations can be just as complex as their parental relationships.
Harte v. Hand
To help handle these challenges, the New Jersey Appellate Division issued a 2013 ruling with guidelines that may help judges determine how to calculate child support for parents with multiple families. In Harte v. Hand, the appellate division judges heard the case of a defendant and father with three children, each of whom had different mothers. The oldest child lived with the father and the father’s current wife.
The middle child lived with his mother, and the youngest child lived with her mother. The father (Hand) paid child support for each child based on a calculated income of $57,000; however, he claimed he was not earning at that level, noting that he was supported by his current wife’s earnings. Based on his lack of income, Hand asked the court to reduce his child support obligations for the children living with their mothers.
In this and most other child support cases, the family court judge calculates support obligations for the children who do not live with one parent based on the financial circumstances of the parent with whom they do live, who is often referred to as the custodial parent.
Because Hand was supporting two children in two separate living situations, the judge ruled that it was unfair to consider one of the child support orders the initial order, which would be deducted from the income amount that Hand had available to support the other children. Instead, the judge calculated Hand’s obligations without consideration for the others, meaning that the obligation for the middle child was calculated on the income of $57,000, as was the obligation for Harte’s child. Neither amount was deducted.
This ruling places a heavy burden on parents who are supporting multiple children, family lawyers say. Many parents do not make enough money to support paying two obligations of such high amounts based on their single income. Add in unemployment or personal financial obligations, such as another child at home, and these obligations can quickly spiral out of control.
Instead of adhering to this method, the Appellate Division ruled that “equality in treatment for the mothers should not be obtained by requiring the father to pay an inappropriately high level of support for both children.” The court further ruled that state child support guidelines could--and should--be modified to fit circumstances like these.
Therefore, each obligation should be considered in calculating overall amounts of support so that the obligated parent can afford to make support payments and each child and family is treated equally. The Guidelines specify that when more than one family is involved, the prior child support orders should be deducted from the parent’s weekly income.
At Helmer, Conley, and Kasselman, PA, our attorneys represent clients who are burdened with excessively high support payments for multiple family situations. To discuss your case, contact one of our attorneys in New Jersey today.