Many clients come to us asking if they can lower their New Jersey child support payments. In most cases, the client is subject to a child support order and they either cannot afford to make the payments or they feel that the amount was set too high. If someone wants their child support lowered, they need to make an application/motion for a reduction in child support. Below is some information about common child support situations and how the Family Courts in New Jersey will often handle them.
First, you should note that the court will not lower your child support payment simply because you cannot afford the payments. Unfortunately for people in difficult financial situations, the ability of a parent to pay child support really is not part of the child support calculation. If a person files an application for a reduction and argues that they cannot afford the payments, the court will usually just deny the motion.
The initial showing that an applicant must make is that there is a material change in circumstances that should result in a change of child support. Something that most people do not know is that a loss of employment is NOT considered a material change in circumstances. That is because the courts view this as a temporary situation and judges frequently tell parents that they need to get a new job and that child support will not change. However, if a person does get a new job and is making less money, then the court may lower child support and use the new salary as the basis. This reduction is not guaranteed – the courts always look to see if the change of employment and lower wages was voluntary. For example, if a well-paid doctor decides that they no longer want to be a doctor and would rather teach yoga, the court will usually continue to base child support on the doctor wages and not the yoga instructor wages.
Another common situation is when the paying parent has another child. In such a case, the parent is generally entitled to a reduction. What the court will do is factor in child support payments for the new child (or pretend that they are paying child support on the new child) and factor in that liability into the child support calculation. Also common are changes in custody/visitation arrangements (ex. Dad used to have no overnight visits and now has 3 overnights per week) and extraordinary expenses, like for medical reasons, college, special education needs, etc. Those types of situations may be considered when reevaluating child support. In terms of college students, the situation may be quite complicated for the court. For example, if the parent is paying for college and room and board, they may find it unfair to also pay child support when the child is really living in the dorm and not at any parent’s house.
Many clients also ask if they need to hire a lawyer to help them with an application to lower child support. For very simple cases it may not be necessary and people frequently file applications without a lawyer. However, if there is anything at all complicated about the case then parents should strongly consider hiring a lawyer. The reason is that child support reduction hearings happen very quickly, often just in front of a hearing officer. The parties are given very little time to speak and most people are not skilled at conveying a legal argument in 2 or 3 minutes. If they make the application and lose, the court will usually not allow them to file the same application again, but with a lawyer. Therefore, if you are involved in a child support matter and you are not completely confident that you will win, you should ask for an adjournment and consult with an attorney.