Some families have child-related expenses that are not incurred by many other families. Families with special needs children often bear the financial burden of many additional expenses for their children’s health, educational, and care. These expenses are not “optional” for many special needs children, they are necessary for the children’s development and safety. Some examples of these expenses are occupational, behavioral, and speech therapy, tracking services such as Angel Sense, and an organic diet for the children. Other expenses may be for the same services that other families incur, but are more expensive due to the individualized care that their child needs, such as child care, summer camp, and private lessons.
When parents of special needs children separate or divorce, there are additional financial considerations that need to be addressed, including how child support is calculated and the children’s unpredictable and nonrecurring expenses are paid. For most parents in New Jersey child support is calculated under the Child Support Guidelines. The Guidelines are set forth in the New Jersey Court Rules and you can access a copy of them here: http://www.judiciary.state.nj.us/rules/r5-6a.html.
Sometimes the Court will determine that the Child Support Guidelines are inappropriate in the case of a specific family. If this is the case, the Court may either adjust a Guidelines-based obligation or disregard the Guidelines to accommodate the needs of the children or the parents’ circumstances. The Guidelines-based obligation may be modified if parents have certain expenses that are not incurred by most families, including expenses for child care, health insurance, out-of-pocket health care expenses in excess of $250 per child per year, and other expenses agreed to between the parents or approved by the Court. This “other expenses” category may include many of the expenses that families with special needs children incur, including those listed above for a special needs child’s education and services.
If a parent is seeking to include additional expenses to the basic child support obligation the parents must either agree on these expenses or the court must approve of these expenses. Special expenses that are predictable and recurring may be included in the weekly child support obligation; however, special expenses that are not predictable and recurring should be shared by the parents when they are incurred in proportion to the parents’ incomes. Parents can either pay their portion of the special expenses not included in the child support obligation directly to the parent who made or will make the payment or directly to the provider of the service.
When the Child Support Guidelines are not applicable, there are ten factors that the Court will consider in determining the child support for the children. These factors are set forth in N.J.S.A. 2A:34-23(a) and include:
(1) Needs of the child;
(2) Standard of living and economic circumstances of each parent;
(3) All sources of income and assets of each parent;
(4) Earning ability of each parent, including educational background, training, employment skills, work experience, custodial responsibility for children including the cost of providing child care and the length of time and cost of each parent to obtain training or experience for appropriate employment;
(5) Need and capacity of the child for education, including higher education;
(6) Age and health of the child and each parent;
(7) Income, assets and earning ability of the child;
(8) Responsibility of the parents for the court-ordered support of others;
(9) Reasonable debts and liabilities of each child and parent; and
(10) Any other factors the court may deem relevant.
No matter whether a Guidelines-Based obligation or a factor-based obligation is agreed to by the parties or ordered by the Court, one thing is certain – the New Jersey Courts are becoming more aware of the financial responsibility parents of special needs children face and are providing for these additional services in child support awards.