One of the factors that courts look at in setting a child support award is each parent’s income. As New Jersey’s Superior Court explained in a recent ruling, a judge has the right to consider both what a parent is actually making and what he or she could be making.
Husband and Wife were married for roughly 18 years and had two children before divorcing in 2002. The spouses entered into a negotiated agreement as part of the divorce, under which Husband agreed to pay Wife $1,000 per month in child support. Wife, in turn, was granted primary custody of the kids. A court later increased Husband’s child support obligation to more than $5,000 per month in 2006.
The judge found, among other things, that Husband was bringing in about $200,000 per year in base pay and bonuses from his mortgage and credit counseling job. Wife, on the other hand, was making just over $76,000 per year. Husband later asked the court to reduce the child support award, asserting that he was let go from his job in 2011. He briefly moved to Florida, married twice, and then went to live with his parents in New Jersey in 2012. Husband said that his unemployment insurance benefits eventually ran dry, and he became economically dependent on his parents, whom he said were giving him about $2,000 per month. He said he didn’t file tax returns for 2012 and 2013 because he had no income during that time.
The court eventually relieved Husband of his duty to pay child support for his oldest son, who had since turned 23 and graduated college. With respect to the younger child, however, the court ordered Husband to pay nearly $900 a week to cover the child’s educational and living expenses. The judge said she would impute an annual income of more than $150,000 to Husband. That figure, according to the judge, came from Labor Department statistics on the average income for experienced real estate brokers.
Affirming the decision on appeal, the Superior Court said the judge didn’t err in imputing income to Husband. “It is well-settled that the court is authorized to impute income for the purpose of determining child support when a parent is found to be voluntarily unemployed or underemployed without cause,” the Court said. “Given his age, professional background, and income history, the motion judge correctly rejected defendant’s proposal to use his parents’ $2000 monthly gift as an untenable baseline for calculating his child support obligation.”
It is vital that a person considering a divorce or grappling with child support-related legal issues seek the counsel and advice of a seasoned family law attorney. The New Jersey child custody lawyers at Helfand & Associates have more than 100 years of combined experience representing clients in a wide range of divorce, child custody, and support cases. Our lawyers work diligently to ease the stress on clients in what can be a trying process by building the strongest possible cases for the people whom we represent.
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