New Jersey's Supreme Court is considering a proposal that would update current child-support laws to more accurately reflect the financial status of the American family. Chaired by Appellate Division Judge Marie Lihotz, the committee is encouraging the Supreme Court to consider how economic realities have changed in the last twelve years, and to apply those changes to the guidelines governing child-support requirements, taking into account "prosperous years, recession years, and the current slow recover years."
Family attorneys in New Jersey say that the current law reflects a higher earning potential for divorced parents. The law mandates that two parents with a weekly income of $1,000 must pay $232 a week for one child, $317 for two, $361 for three, $403 for four, $443 for five, and $482 for six. For many single-parent families, this is half of a weekly income, and as many parents face unemployment or shortened hours, they lose the ability to meet the court-mandated levels of child support.
The committee's proposed changes would lower child-support averages across the board, especially in families with more than two children. According to the figures up for consideration in the Supreme Court, two parents with the same income would now pay child support in the amount of $233 weekly for one child, $257 for two, $315 for three, $350 for four, $389 for five, and $433 for six. The plan for higher income families increases the lump sums that parents must dedicate for the children. Parents earning $3,000 as a weekly combined income are currently required to pay a range of $410 for one child to $792 for six. But the new plan raises these costs—parents would have to pay $447 for one child and $810 for six children.
The committee conducted a study comparing spending in households with and without children, and applied the findings to the individual parent's income. This method usually results in the higher-earning parent paying a larger percentage of the support.
The 1988 federal Family Support Act requires states to review their policies on child-support every four years. New Jersey's child-support system was adopted nearly 30 years ago, in the 1980s. American families spent more money on themselves and their kids, and enjoyed a higher level of job security. Committee members say that the proposed figures reflect the "significant downturn" in the economy, and the rapidly changing attitudes of working parents. "People are spending less on their children because they've had to cut back," says a divorce lawyer who serves on the committee.
Changes to the child-support guidelines could reopen negotiations between existing divorce agreements, New Jersey family attorneys say. Lower child-support payments may ease the burden for parents making less money, but family lawyers and children's advocates warn that too little money could drastically decrease the quality of care that children of divorce receive.
The New Jersey family lawyers at Helmer, Conley, and Kasselman, PA offer legal counsel to any couples considering divorce, or reevaluating the terms of their current divorce arrangement.