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How Does Child Support Work With Joint Custody?

Historically, child support determinations were simpler than they are now. One parent, often the mother, would likely obtain primary custody, while the father (who probably earned the lion’s share of the income) would be on the hook for child support. Over the past few decades, these “traditional” family arrangements have changed, if not eroded entirely. Now, many families are dual-income, and courts err on the side of awarding joint custody so that children preserve an equal relationship with both parents after a divorce. The question of child support, then, becomes more complex. Continue reading for a discussion of how child support operates when the parents have joint custody, and call a knowledgeable Englewood child support and parental rights attorney for help with a New Jersey family law matter.

Joint/Shared Physical Custody in New Jersey

New Jersey separates custody into two categories: legal and physical. Legal custody refers to which parent(s) has authority to make important life decisions about a child, such as major medical or educational decisions. Physical custody refers to where the child resides. New Jersey courts will decide legal and physical custody based on the “best interests of the child,” with a bias in favor of joint legal and physical custody.

Joint physical custody aims to have the children spend roughly equal time with both parents. How this plays out will differ based on the schedules, needs, and circumstances of each family. The parents might alternate weeks, they might alternate between weeks and weekends, they may have special arrangements during summer vacation, etc.

Joint Custody and Child Support

Child support is decided separately from child custody, although the two determinations may be interrelated. Each parent is obligated to provide for their children’s necessities, including food, clothing, and shelter. They can fulfill that obligation either by physically providing for the child’s needs (i.e., having custody) or by contributing financially (child support). Ideally, parents will agree on child support as part of the parenting plan incorporated into a divorce settlement. If the parents cannot agree on child support, the court will make a decision.

If one parent is the “custodial” parent (or the “parent of primary residence”), meaning they have sole physical custody, then the non-custodial parent will likely be ordered to pay child support. In New Jersey, if one parent has physical custody 104 nights or less per year (28% of the year or less), then the other parent will be considered the parent of primary residence. If both parents have more than 104 nights with the children, then the parents have a “shared” or joint custody/parenting time arrangement.

Technically, whether in a shared or sole arrangement, both parents are still financially responsible for the child. In practice, the court may order one party to pay child support based on several factors. New Jersey has a formula for calculating the child support obligation of each parent. A parent whom the formula determines should pay “more” in child support, practically speaking, will be the person really paying. Some of the principal factors that go into determining the child support obligation of each parent include:

  • How many nights the child spends with each parent
  • The income and other financial circumstances of each parent
  • The expenses associated with caring for the child, including living expenses, educational expenses, medical expenses, etc.

If one parent spends significantly more nights with the child, they are more likely to receive child support. If the parties spend roughly equal nights with the children, but one parent has a significantly higher income, the court is likely to order the higher-income parent to pay at least some child support. If the parents have roughly the same income and share a 50/50 split of time and expenses related to the children, then there might not be a child support award.

Get Answers to Your New Jersey Child Custody Questions

If you’re considering divorce in New Jersey or dealing with child support, child custody, property division, or other family law issues, contact the Englewood family law attorneys Herbert & Weiss at (201) 500-2151.