After 10 years of practicing Family Law, it’s hard to believe that things still surprise me but it’s true. Let me tell you about a crazy case I had recently.
Mom and Dad broke up and shared 50/50 parenting time with the kids. After the break-up, Mom moved to a different city and the kids were enrolled in Dad’s school district. Mom filed a motion seeking residential custody of the kids and Dad opposed it because he didn’t want the kids to have to change schools.
After a hearing, the Judge agreed that Dad should be the parent of primary residence (the custodial parent) of the kids. So far, so good!
The Judge ordered that the parties continue sharing 50/50 custody of the kids. Okay, no problem there either!
Then the child support was calculated and that’s when the bomb dropped!
Although Dad was the custodial parent, he was ordered to pay child support to Mom!
Unfortunately, you read that right. Dad (the parent of primary residence (PPR) aka the parent with residential custody of the kids) was ordered to pay support to Mom.
HOW COULD THIS HAPPEN?
The reality is that child support is a numbers game. The two things that impact child support the most are the incomes of the parties and the number of overnights each parent has. The higher the income of the PAR, the higher the support. The more overnights the PAR (parent of alternate residence aka the parent without residential custody of the kids) has, the lower the support.
In this case, Dad earned double what Mom earned. So right there, her child support obligation would be pretty low. But coupled with the drastic difference in their incomes was the fact that they had equal overnights. That took Mom’s child support obligation even lower. So low that the guidelines calculated a negative number.
In most cases where the guidelines calculate a negative number, the Judge will simply say no child support will be paid. But in my case, the Judge said well that’s how much Dad should pay to Mom.
The sad truth is that the Judge is correct. There is an appendix to the child support guidelines which explains just about any and everything you could need to know about how the child support guidelines work. There are actually 2 appendices, Section 9-A and Section 9-B. The appendix actually states that if the number is negative, that means the PPR must pay that amount to the PAR. It’s crazy to think that the parent with residential custody could have to pay the other parent but NJ law says it’s not so crazy. Especially under these circumstances.
What’s the bottom line?
Remember the 2 things that affect child support the most:
1) The party’s incomes – the larger the difference in incomes, the greater the impact on the child support. For instance, if the PPR earns more than the PAR, the lower the PAR’s child support obligation would be. Alternatively, if the PAR earns more than the PPR, the higher the PAR’s child support obligation would be.
2) The number of overnights – it’s not unusual is the PAR earns more to still have to pay child support even if the overnights are equal. However, it is unusual, but not illegal, for the PPR to have to pay child support to the PAR.
In my case, if the parties did not have 50/50 parenting time, and say for instance the PAR had 2 overnights per week, then she would be paying a small amount of child support. But with Dad earning double her income and her equal overnights, unfortunately, he will have to pay her. We are still waiting for the Judge’s official decision, but she said she was considering requiring Dad to pay Mom. I’ll update you on this case after I receive the decision!