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Child Support Modifications: Including Periodic Reviews, Financial Disclosures in Original Agreement

Divorcing parents may want to consider insisting that periodic reviews with financial disclosures be included in their final divorce agreement. Courts generally do not consider the passage of time alone a significant change of circumstance to warrant a review of both parties’ financial records for child support purposes. Furthermore, individuals may be ordered without financial review to split certain expenses 50-50, potentially leaving the lesser-earning party at a disadvantage. As our New Jersey child support attorneys can explain, writing periodic reviews into the original divorce agreement can help divorcing parents avoid a scenario like this.

The recent New Jersey appellate court case of Covone v. Curreri dealt with this sort of situation.

Plaintiff sought an increase in child support from her ex and wanted him to also pay a larger share of their daughter’s school-based extracurricular expenses. These requests were denied by the trial court in a decision affirmed by the appellate court.

The couple was married in 2001, had a child the following year and divorced the year after that. In the divorce agreement, defendant was ordered to pay child support, an arrangement that would be good until 2005, after which both parties agreed they would review the order to recalculate the obligation based on both parties’ circumstances at the time. Child support was reviewed twice by the parties, after which they agreed the monthly support obligation would be increased solely to address COLAs (cost-of-living-adjustments).

Both parties later remarried and had other children. In 2010, the two agreed to work with a court-appointed parenting coordinator to help them resolve future parenting disputes. Seven years later, that parenting coordinator drafted a recommendation with respect to parenting time and an increase in father’s child support. He refused to sign it.

Mother asked the court to compel the father to acquiesce to the recommendations, attend therapy with his daughter and submit his latest financial records to the court for review of his child support payments. She argued that it had been 13 years since the parties last reviewed the child support obligation, and that this time lapse alone was a change in circumstance warranting review of his payments. She also wanted the father to contribute to certain expenses, such as SAT courses, college application fees, tutoring, prom, class trips, etc. on the basis of their income differential. She noted that the father had made several luxury purchases in recent years, including a pricy home and several expensive cars. Meanwhile, she was paying half these additional expenses her daughter was incurring.

The father argued plaintiff had not proved there was a change of circumstances warranting a child support modification. Time alone, he said, does not constitute a change in circumstances and his obligation had already been adjusted several times based on COLAs. Previous case law has established that the passage of time alone does not necessitate child support recalculation.

The trial judge noted that child support orders are not subject to automatic review every three years, as they previously were, but they are subject to an automatic adjustment every two years to reflect changes in the cost of living. For the court to initiate a financial discovery for review of child support payments, plaintiff needed to show a substantial change in circumstances. Both courts found she did not.

The trial court did order the father to contribute to the extraordinary expenses their daughter was incurring, but that those expenses should be split equally. Defendant had not willfully violated any court order or acted in bad faith and was within his rights to refuse to sign the parenting coordinator’s recommended arrangement.

In affirming the lower court’s decision, the appellate court noted that family law courts are given a great deal of discretion and lower court’s finding of facts are given considerable difference because family courts have special jurisdiction and expertise in family matters.

New Jersey law allows child support orders to be revised by the court as circumstances change, but it is the person who is seeking support modification who bears the initial proof burden. They can do this by showing the parties’ original agreement is not meeting the needs and expenses of the kids or by showing a substantial, non-temporary increase/decrease of income or assets for one or both parties.

In this case, the judge did not necessarily ignore all this, but found the plaintiff didn’t establish a prima face case of a changed circumstance that would have allowed financial discovery during which those tenets might be applied. The appellate court further held that the 13-year lapse since the parties had last looked at both parties’ finances and the father’s child support obligations was not a legally supportable reason to initiate one now.

Although the court did not order a financial discovery in this case, both parties can agree to it on their own, either as part of the final divorce agreement or in subsequent consent agreements. Our experienced family law attorneys can help.

Call Rozin|Golinder Law, LLC today at (732) 810-0034 for a free and confidential consultation.

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