More than one-quarter of U.S. children live in a household separate from one of their parents. One recent Pew Research Center study found that the U.S. has the world’s highest rate of children living in single-parent households. This arrangement can work well for all involved – so long as the custodial parent receives the child support to which they are entitled.
Co-parents who are not together can work out a financial agreement between themselves, but it won’t be enforceable unless there is a court order. If you are pursuing child support as a single parent in New Jersey, you have one of four basic options:
- Go it alone in court.
- Work with a mediator.
- Hire an attorney.
- Accept assistance from the state’s child support agency.
Regardless of which route you choose, resolution will likely take a few months at least. Hiring an attorney will require some cost upfront, but understand that once support orders are in place, they may difficult to modify – absent a substantial and material change in circumstances. Support orders are otherwise only reviewed every three years. Reaching a well-planned, fair agreement the first time can save you a great deal of future hassle.
New Jersey Child Support Guidelines
As our Freehold child support attorneys can explain, New Jersey has state-mandated child support guidelines and enforcement policies on record. The basic premise is that child support is the continuous duty of both parents, children are entitled to share the income of both parents and children shouldn’t be economic victims of their parents’ dissolving relationship. It doesn’t matter whether you are separated, divorced or unmarried – the formula for calculating child support is the same across the board, taking into account both parties’ income, number of children, medical needs and other considerations.
Federal law requires states to process child support orders within three months of locating the noncustodial parent. However, it can take a lot longer if the other parent repeatedly tries to dodge child support orders or simply doesn’t have it.
Steps for Pursuing Child Support
If you are a single parent who has decided to seek child support, here are some basic steps to take:
- Establish legal parentage. A woman who gives birth to a child is legally considered the parent of that child. A married spouse is also legally considered the parent. Beyond that, parentage may need to be established. New Jersey offers a Voluntary Acknowledgement of Parentage form. Courts can also compel paternity tests. Same-sex, non-biological parents should consult with an attorney about their legal rights.
- Identify the agency that handles child support. Every state has their own. In New Jersey, it’s the Department of Human Services, Office of Child Support Services. The agency is headquartered in Trenton and the call center number is (877)-NJKIDS1. You can either fill out an application for child support online or determine which county court you need to visit to kickstart the process. Know that COVID-19 restrictions may be in place.
- File for child support in court. The U.S. Census Bureau reports that only about 50 percent of custodial parents even file for a legal agreement on child support. Many have their own informal agreements. Our East Brunswick child support attorneys generally advise against this type of arrangement. The reason is because if the other parent breaches their end of the bargain, you’re only entitled to back support from the time you filed. Plus, having a formal agreement makes expectations crystal clear to both parties, so there’s little room for misunderstanding. Furthermore, it’s worth the hassle. Approximately two-thirds of those who obtain a legal order on child support receive it. Even if you don’t receive the entire amount from the other parent, it can be enough to keep you above the poverty line.
- Understand what your child is owed. The aforementioned New Jersey child support guidelines are instructive here. So too is the advice of a family law attorney. You’re entitled to financial assistance for almost all costs relating to raising the child you share. That includes the basics of things like food, shelter, transportation, clothing and health care but also entertainment and miscellaneous expenses. Your child may even be entitled to help with college.
- Choose whether to hire a child support attorney or do it yourself. We urge anyone considering pro se (on their own) representation to use great caution. Pro se litigants often overlook elements that can result in them receiving less money. If attorney’s fees are a significant concern, there are ways we can work with clients to keep costs down, including instructing clients on gathering much of their own paperwork and mediating differences rather than going to court. If you expect any legal challenges at all with your ex or if you’re a same-sex parent, we strongly urge hiring an attorney to help you navigate the process.
- Encourage shared parenting time. If at all possible, be open to shared parenting time. It’s usually better for the child. Plus, a parent who feels more invested in your child’s well-being is going to be more amenable to covering that child’s expenses. Understand that custody and support are two separate issues legally, but they’re usually addressed at the same time.
If you have questions about how to file for child support or fight for back support from your co-parent, our family law firm can help.
Contact us at (732) 810-0034 or email us through our website.