NJ Child Support Guidelines Do Not Control For College Students
- July 29, 2014
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In Ferrer v. Reynaldo, the New Jersey Appellate Division ruled that the NJ Child Support Guidelines are not always an automatic calculation for college students. The Defendant, Carlos Reynaldo, appealed from part of a Family Court Order issued in 2013 setting his child support obligation at $139 per week arguing that the court mistakenly calculated the amount of his obligation by using the NJ Child Support Guidelines. The Appellate Court agreed with the Defendant and remanded the case back to the Family Court to recalculate his child support amount under N.J.S.A. 2A:34-23(a). In this case, the Defendant and the Plaintiff, Miriam Ferrer, were divorced. While the parties were married the Plaintiff gave birth to two children, Janessa born in 1985 and Gabriella, born in 1992. Janessa was legally emancipated in 2004. Gabriella was 20 years old at the time these proceedings began and was a full-time student at Rutgers University. In 2012, the Defendant filed a Motion with the court to terminate or reduce his child support payments with regard to Gabriella asserting that she was of legal age for emancipation. The Plaintiff opposed this Motion, arguing that Gabriella was not emancipated because she was a full-time college student. The Family Court heard arguments at a hearing held in early 2013 at which Gabriella testified that she was a full-time college student. The court found Gabriella’s testimony to be credible and it determined that because she was a full-time student she was not emancipated based on her age. The court also ordered the Defendant to pay 50% of Gabriella’s college tuition pursuant to the parties’ property settlement agreement. The Defendant argued that his $139 a week child support obligation was “double dipping” because Gabriella lived on the Rutger’s campus and thus her education expenses included room and board. The court declined to alter his obligation. The Defendant appealed from the portion of the Order that sets his child support amount. The Appellate Division held that when reviewing decisions granting applications to modify child support it examines whether the trial judge abused his or her discretion. Larbig v. Larbig, 384 N.J. Super. 17, 21 (App. Div. 2006). The Appellate Court may reverse a trial court’s decision if it was “made without a rational explanation, inexplicably depart[s] from established policies, or rest[s] on an impermissible basis.” Flagg v. Essex Cnty. Prosecutor, 171 N.J. 561, 571 (2002). In general, child support awards are computed using the NJ Child Support Guidelines under Rule 5:6A. Appendix IX-A to Rule 5:6A makes it very clear that the child support schedule provided by the Guidelines shall not be used to determine parental contributions for college or other post-secondary education expenses. However, the NJ Child Support Guidelines “may be applied in the court’s discretion to support for students over [eighteen] years of age who commute to college.” The Appellate Court previously held that child support calculations for unemancipated college students who live on-campus, or away from the custodial parent’s home, should instead be made “in light of all the financial circumstances of the parties and children.” Raynor v. Raynor, 319 N.J. Super. 591, 614 (App. Div. 1999). In this case, the Family Court explicitly used the child support guidelines to calculate the support obligation, which the Appellate Court determined to be incorrect because in using an automatic calculation and not considering other factors the Family Court allowed for the kind of double dipping that the Appellate Division has specifically prohibited. Therefore, the decision of the Family Court was reversed and remanded for consideration under N.J.S.A. 2A:34-23(a). Disputes regarding child support can be of the most important in family law because child support money is critical for the welfare of the children of divorced parents. If you are involved in a child support dispute it is imperative that you seek out the advice of an experienced attorney before proceeding. For more information on child support, emancipation, post judgment modification, alimony, divorce, or other family law matters in New Jersey visit DarlingFirm.com. This blog is for informational purposes and in no way intended to replace the advice of an attorney.