Determining and Enforcing Child Support in New Jersey

The court uses a complex set of factors when determining a New Jersey child support award. Child support, intended to provide for the care, maintenance and education of a child, can be a hotly contested issue. In some cases, parents try to manipulate the system in an effort to receive more or pay less. While it is important to make sure that the court has all the facts when considering child support, it is also important to remember why child support exists in the first place - to support minor children after divorce or when parents never married.

The court evaluates issues such as:

  • The needs of the child
  • The standard of living and the financial needs of both parents
  • The earning capacity of each parent
  • The presumed custody awards
  • Cost of child care
  • The probability that the child may attend college
  • The age and health of the child and the parents
  • The parents' responsibility for others, including other children and elderly parents

The law requires both parents to be responsible for the support of children, which is why courts take into account the circumstances of both parents when determining support awards. Moreover, courts must employ this type of analysis not only in divorce cases, but also during separations in which temporary support is awarded (pendente lite), when resolving domestic violence cases and when determining public assistance amounts.

A major issue for courts and social service agencies is determining the right support amounts - amounts that adequately provide for children, but that do not bankrupt the paying parent. Enforcing child support payments is another major issue that frequently involves legal action.

When child support payments are late, incomplete or never made, the state has a variety of enforcement mechanisms at its disposal. These include:

  • Withholding/garnishing wages and income
  • Reporting delinquencies to credit agencies in instances where more than $1,000 is owed
  • Intercepting lottery winnings if a parent is more than $600 in arrears
  • Offsetting tax refunds
  • Seizing assets such as bank accounts when the noncustodial parent owes child support and has the means to pay
  • Suspending recreational and professional licenses
  • Denying passport issuance or renewal to parents who owe more than $2,500 in back child support
  • Confiscating civil awards and settlements
  • Seeking arrest warrants from a judge
  • Issuing judgments after hearings in Family Court

These enforcement techniques may also be used to ensure that children are covered by health insurance and to enforce spousal support awards that are tied to child support amounts. In all instances, the dollar amounts that trigger enforcement action change over time, so those amounts listed above could become greater or smaller.

Employers are often conduits for child support payments and enforcement mechanisms. They withhold wages, make payments to the state and report new hires to facilitate locating delinquent parents. This has proven to be an incentive to parents who might otherwise fall behind in their child support payments; they do not want their employers to learn of any delinquency and consequently do not fall behind.

Other third parties involved in enforcing child support include the U.S. State Department (passports), the New Jersey Lottery (winnings), licensing agencies such as the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission and the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife (hunting and fishing licenses), and the Internal Revenue Service. Enforcing child support involves a multipronged strategy.

People who owe back child support or those seeking to enforce a child support order may wish to consult a family law attorney to learn about their options. Because of the many layers of government involved in child support enforcement, having a knowledgeable guide through the system can make a big difference.