Calculating child support pursuant to the New Jersey Child Support Guidelines can be complicated. The calculation can become increasingly complicated when an obligor (someone who pays child support) has multiple children in separate families.
Since child support is based upon available income of the obligor, the Guidelines correctly reduce available income to an obligor who has two separate support obligations for two children living in two separate families. This deduction is known as the “other dependent deduction” (ODD).
The NJ Child Support Guidelines explain ODD’s as follows:
“The other-dependent deduction is part of an adjustment mechanism to apportion a parent’s income to all legal dependents including those born before or after the children for whom support is being determined.”
The other dependent deduction or “ODD” requires that three support obligations be calculated:
First, a theoretical support obligation for the other dependents in the alternate family;
Second, a support obligation that includes the other-dependent deduction;
Third, a support obligation that does not include the other-dependent deduction.
A problem arises when a child support payor has three or more support obligations to pay for children living in separate families. The New Jersey Child Support Worksheet allows for the entry of an other dependent deduction “ODD”. For three or more child support obligations the question is, “In what order should the ODD the applied to the child support obligations?”
Our Appellate Division gave guidance on how to calculate child support and the ODD for three or more child support obligations in its new published decision, Susan Marie Harte v David Richard Hand (NOTE: this decision references the New Jersey child support worksheet by numeric line so it may be helpful in reading the decision to refer to a child support worksheet).
Mr. Hand had three children with three separate mothers. His oldest child lives with him and his current wife and his two other children live with their respective mothers. The trial court determined Mr. Hand’s support obligations for his two youngest children at the same time. In determining Mr. Hand’s child support obligation, the Court did not give him the full other dependent deduction credit that he was entitled to because, in doing so, one of the two mothers of his youngest children would receive less child support. Said another way, the trial judge used an ODD that only took into account Mr. Hand’s oldest child who was living with him.
The Appellate Division did not approve of the methodology used by the trial court. The Appellate Court reasoned,
“[The trial court] …determined that it would be unfair to the mothers to designate either order as the initial order, thereby deducting that amount from defendant’s available income when calculating the support order for the other child. The judge therefore calculated both support obligations using defendant’s imputed annual income of $57,200 as if the only other child defendant supported was the oldest son living with him.
We do not approve the child support calculation method utilized by the motion judge.”
The Hand decision recognizes,
“The Guidelines require the court to consider multiple family obligations to obtain an equitable resolution that does not favor any family.
A later-born child should not be penalized by reducing the obligor’s available income by the prior child support obligation. To achieve parity among the children of defendant, we suggest the use of the “prior order” adjustment under the child support guidelines must be modified.”
The Appellate Court found the better method to calculate child support was to calculate an additional two sets of guidelines swapping order of the dependency deductions application and taking an average of the two dependent deductions. The court reasoned,
“This method would ensure that the children were treated fairly regardless of birth order, while not disregarding the father’s obligation to pay for all three children. This may well not be the only way to equitably calculate support for multiple families, but we suggest it as one workable method of doing so that is consistent with the Guidelines.”
Now, parents who pay support for three or more children will need to make additional child support calculations in order to get a correct and accurate child support obligation amount.
Calculating child support in New Jersey can be complicated. If you or someone you know has questions about child support in New Jersey, contact the family law attorneys at DeMichele & DeMichele online today. Your confidential initial consultation can also be scheduled by calling our family law attorneys: (856) 546-1350.