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Do I Still Have to Pay Child Support if Custody is Split 50-50?

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Joint custody sometimes involves both parents having an equal amount of parenting time - an exact 50-50 split. But that alone doesn’t necessarily mean no one will owe child support. In fact, most of the time, as our Monmouth child support attorneys can explain, someone will still be paying the other.

First of all, joint custody arrangements are rarely 50-50 in the first place. That simply isn’t practical for most families, though Courts do strive to make it as equitable as possible. But let’s say there is an exact 50-50 child custody arrangement. Pretty much the only scenario there where neither parent pays child support is if they each earn the exact same amount of income. Further, each parent is responsible for their child support proportionate not only to their actual income but their ability to earn. So even if they have the exact same income, a spouse who is deemed to be voluntarily underemployed could still be compelled to pay.

Most families today involve two wage-earning spouses. Courts understand that when parents pool their resources, the kids have a higher quality of life.

Child Support Guidelines in New Jersey

Whether we’re talking about a divorce or a case of unmarried parents, Courts award child support on the basis of the state’s New Jersey Child Support Guidelines, factoring in all needs and benefits, including housing, food, clothing, tuition, child care, health care, entertainment, transportation, and miscellaneous items.

The guidelines are used to determine the fair share of each parent for those expenses, depending on how much money each parent earns (or is capable of earning), less taxes and deductions. “Income” includes compensation for services, wages, salaries, tips and commissions, bonuses, severance payments, rentals/royalties from properties, annuities, life insurance payments, trusts, etc. If you own a business, it also includes all revenue, minus operating expenses.

Basic child support consists of three things:

  • Fixed expenses (things like housing household furnishings, and household care items incurred even when the child isn’t residing with the parent). This is presumed 38 percent of the total.
  • Variable expenses (transportation, food, etc. - costs only incurred when the child is with the parent). This is presumed 37 percent of the total.
  • Controlled expenses (clothing, personal care, entertainment, miscellaneous). This is presumed 25 percent of the total.

Fixed and variable expenses must be met by both parties, with each parent’s responsibilities determined by their incomes and how much time they spend with the child. Controlled expenses, however, are apportioned without respect to how much time a parent spends with the child.

In most cases, the child resides with or spends most of their time with the parent who receives the child support. People might assume that the more parenting time one is awarded, the less child support is owed. But that’s not always the case, and 50-50 joint custody doesn’t mean you’re off the hook for child support. When there’s an income differential between parents, the higher-earning parent is likely to owe child support to the lower-earning parent, even when parenting time is equal.

Requesting Child Support Modification Based on 50-50 Parenting Time

All this said, 50-50 parenting time can be used as grounds to argue for a reduction in child support payments in some cases. Take for example the 2009 case of Wunsch-Deffler v. Deffler. With two children, the pair divorced in 2007. Each assumed full custody of one child, with both agreeing neither would pay child support to the other while the arrangement continued. When the oldest child became emancipated, though, either would be free to request child support for the other.

The older child was emancipated a year after the divorce, and the parents then shared equal parenting time with the younger child. One parent earned $800/week while the other earned $1,050 a week. The lower-earning payer requested child support from the other. Factoring both parties’ income to the guidelines, the Court determined the child support obligation should be $56/weekly.

However, both parties shared equal overnight parenting time, the Court determined further adjustment was necessary. The Court implemented a three-step procedure to adjust the payor’s obligation to account for this fact. Both parties are to be responsible for controlled expenses during their respective parenting time, so the income-based award was reduced by 25 percent. Ultimately, this resulted in the weekly support obligation being just $14.

Note that if you share 50-50 custody and your income suddenly drops or spikes, that could be grounds to seek a child support adjustment.

Before agreeing to any adjustment of child support payments, it’s important to consult with an experienced New Jersey child support attorney.

Contact our Monmouth County Divorce Attorneys today at (732) 810-0034 to schedule an appointment.