Disputes over child support payments are sometimes among the most contentious in family courts. The longer they drag on, the more expensive they can be. It’s understandable that some couples would like to resolve these issues outside of a courtroom, reducing both time and cost. As our East Brunswick child support attorneys can explain, this can actually be quite beneficial for all involved – but understand that the court must approve the agreement in order for it to be enforceable.
Reaching an agreement with your co-parent on the issue of child support before you step foot in a courtroom can also reduce the amount of contention – which in turn can ease the affect an already-difficult time will have on your child. But whatever agreement you reach needs to align with the New Jersey Child Support Guidelines set forth in Rule 5:6A.
Statutory New Jersey Child Support Guidelines
These rules can be somewhat complicated in their application, which is why it is best to work with an attorney who can advise you whether a plan is likely to be approved by a judge. This is important because once child support agreements are formally approved, they can be difficult to change (one must show a significant change in circumstances).
Expenses included in child support schedules will include the child’s share of expenses for:
- Unreimbursed health care (up to $250 annually per child)
- Miscellaneous items
They can also include childcare expenses, health insurance for the child, predictable and recurring unreimbursed health care expenses and other expenses approved by the court (private school, special needs of gifted or disabled children, visitation transport expenses, etc.).
Adjustments can be made based on the number of other legal dependents of either parent, multiple family obligations, government benefits paid to or for children, age of the children, parents’ income, etc.
The exact amount of child support can vary, but awards are based on the percentage of income spent on children by a large number of families in numerous socioeconomic situations.
The Basic Schedule of Child Support Awards considers the combined net weekly income and the number of children. For example, if your combined net weekly income is $450 and you have two children and no special adjustments, you will pay $139 weekly in child support. If you make that same amount but have just one child, you’ll pay $125 a week in child support. If you make $550 a week, you’ll pay $165 for two children or $149 for one.
Mediation to Resolve Child Support
One way to keep expenses down and the lines of communication open is to resolve the question of child support through mediation. Mediation is different from litigation in a number of ways. These include:
- Control. In litigation, the judge is the decider. He or she will hear both sides of the dispute and then render a binding decision. In mediation, those involved maintain control over important issues like child support. A mediator will hear both sides of the evidence but does not have the legal authority to issue a binding, enforceable decision. The mediator can, however, help both parties clarify their goals, advise them on what the law says and help them reach an amicable solution. Whatever the parties decide will still need to be formally approved by a judge to be enforceable.
- Cooperation. Litigation inevitably pits both parties on either side. This can increase tension, and lead to difficulty co-parenting in the future. Mediation on the other hand only works through communication and cooperation, so you begin your journey as separated co-parents on friendlier terms.
- Cost. This refers to both time and money. Litigation is going to take longer. That will make it more expensive. Plus, litigation will cost more in terms of legal fees, attorney’s fees, expert witness fees, etc. Both parties should be represented in litigation, but in mediation, they can work together with a single mediator and divide the expense. Mediation also takes less time because you aren’t coordinating as many schedules (attorneys, judges, court staff and litigants).
All these factors are why many people choose mediation over litigation when addressing the question of child support. Note that mediation can be done via teleconference or video conferencing in accordance with social distancing guidelines.
Why Does Our Agreement Need to be Approved by a Judge?
Even if you and your spouse work out a child support agreement that follows the letter and spirit of the law, it isn’t enforceable until a court order is entered. In other words, without a court order, either party could drop their end of the bargain and the other would have little recourse.
The court’s priority is the financial well-being of the child. The family law judge will want to ensure the agreement is both comprehensive and fair and meets the child’s financial needs. Going through the process of mediation first significantly reduces the chances that the agreement you reach will be rejected.
If you have questions about New Jersey child support mediation, our dedicated legal team in East Brunswick can help.
Contact us at (732) 810-0034 or email us through our website.