Child support is designed to cover a very specific set of expenses that will be handled by the primary residential parent. Many of these expenses are set out in the New Jersey statutes. This specific list can help parents to cut down on disputes when it comes to whether a particular expense is meant to be covered by the amount already paid by the non-custodial parent. Unfortunately, when the law is amended, it can sometimes lead to ambiguity, as there will be new provisions that have not yet been interpreted by the court. This is what happened in a recent case called Fichter v. Fichter.
In that case, the parties were divorced in 2011. Their settlement agreement provided that the parents would share legal custody of the children with the mother being the primary residential parent. The father was ordered to pay child support to the mother pursuant to the New Jersey Child Support Guidelines. When the parties’ younger child started to drive, the mother filed a motion to modify the support amount, requesting an increase to reflect the car insurance premiums she would be paying on behalf of the daughter.
The New Jersey Child Support Guidelines recite that the child support obligation includes those expenses involved with owning and operating a car, including car payments, upkeep, and insurance. The trial court acknowledged that the cost of auto insurance was enumerated as part of what child support is meant to cover, however, the statute is not clear as to whether that is insurance for the parent or insurance for the child driver. The trial judge pointed out that a reading of the statute that interpreted it to mean the insurance for the child driver would mean that there would be no change in child support before or after a child got a driver’s license, which the court did not find a logical conclusion. The court also interpreted the statute to mean that the “expenses” for car operation associated with a new driver should include a car that is made available to the child, even if it was one already owned by the parent and not purchased exclusively for the child. The judge also pointed out that courts have broad discretion to deviate from the child support guidelines when fairness necessitates such a result. The trial court accordingly determined that the mother’s request for an increase in support to help cover the cost of car insurance for the parties’ daughter was appropriate, and ordered that the parents split the cost of the child’s car insurance until she became emancipated.While child support is usually determined with guideline calculation, there are some occasions when deviations are appropriate. We can help you review your case and discuss your child support options. Call us today at (732) 529-6937 for an appointment.