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What Expenses Are Covered by Child Support Payments? Is the Expense of Auto Insurance For a Newly Licensed Driver Included?

Mar 30, 2016 | Written by: Diana N. Fredericks, Esq. |

The New Jersey Child Support Guidelines, Appendix IX-A to the Rules of Court, provide us with parameters for what is (or is not) included within child support. While parents can negotiate the specific terms in an Agreement or Consent Order to delineate their respective obligations, in the event same is not specifically stated or was not anticipated at the time, the Guidelines will likely apply.

This is often a significant source of contention among parents, as the parent paying child support may mistakenly believe that said payments encompass 100% of his/her obligation to the child, whereas the receiving parent may mistakenly believe that anything deemed “extra” is outside of the Guidelines and therefore requires additional payment by the paying parent.

Paragraph 8 of the Appendix dictates the expenses that are included in child support schedules:

Housing - Mortgage principal and interest payments or home equity loans, property taxes, insurance, refinancing charges, repairs, maintenance, rent, parking fees, property management or security fees, expenses for vacation homes, lodging while out of town, utilities, fuels, public services, domestic services, lawn care, gardening, pest control, laundry and dry cleaning (non-clothing), moving and storage, repairs on home, furniture, major appliances, purchase or rental of household equipment of tools, postage, laundry or cleaning supplies, cleaning and toilet tissues, household and lawn products, stationary, all indoor and outdoor furniture, floor coverings, all small appliances and housewares (except personal care appliances), all household textiles (e.g., linens, drapes, slipcovers, sewing materials, etc.), and miscellaneous household equipment (e.g., clocks, luggage, light fixtures, computers and software, decorating items, etc.). The net purchase price of a home is not included as expenditures in this category.

Food - All food and non-alcoholic beverages purchased for home consumption or purchased away from home (including vending machines, restaurants, tips, school meals and catered affairs). Non-food items (e.g., tissue papers, alcoholic beverages, cigarettes) are not included.

Clothing - All children's clothing (including school uniforms), footwear (except special footwear for sports), diapers, repairs or alterations to clothing and footwear, storage, dry cleaning, laundry, watches, and jewelry.

Transportation - All costs involved with owning or leasing an automobile including monthly installments toward principal cost, finance charges (interest), lease payments, gas and motor oil, insurance, maintenance and repairs. Also, included are other costs related to transportation such as public transit, parking fees, license and registration fees, towing, tolls, and automobile service clubs. The net outlay (purchase price minus the trade-in value) for a vehicle purchase is not included. Transportation also does not include expenses associated with a motor vehicle purchased or leased for the intended primary use of a child subject to the support order.

Unreimbursed Health Care Up to and Including $250 Per Child Per Year - Unreimbursed health-care expenditures (e.g., medical and dental) up to and including $250 per child per year are included in the schedules. Such expenses are considered ordinary and may include items such as non-prescription drugs, co-payments or health care services, equipment or products. The parent's cost of adding a child to a health insurance policy is not included in the schedules.

Entertainment - Fees, memberships and admissions to sports, recreational, or social events, lessons or instructions, movie rentals, televisions, mobile devices, sound equipment, pets, hobbies, toys, playground equipment, photographic equipment, film processing, video games, and recreational, exercise or sports equipment.

Miscellaneous Items - Personal care products and services (e.g., hair, shaving, cosmetics), books and magazines, school supplies, cash contributions, personal insurance, and finance charges (except those for mortgage and vehicle purchases).

Note: Tuition for children (i.e., for private, parochial, or trade schools, or other secondary schools, or post-secondary education) is not included in the child support schedules and may be treated as a supplemental expense.

Paragraph 9 of the Appendix dictates the expenses that may be added to the basic child support obligation, if incurred in a particular case:

Child-Care Expenses - The average cost of child care, including day camp in lieu of child care, is not factored into in the schedules. The net cost (after tax credits) of work-related child care should be added to the basic obligation if incurred.

Health Insurance for the Child - The parent's marginal cost of adding a child to a health insurance premium is not included in the support schedules and should be added to the basic obligation if incurred.

Predictable and Recurring Unreimbursed Health Care Expenses In Excess of $250 Per Child Per Year - Unreimbursed health-care expenses for a child in excess of $250 per child per year are not included in the schedules. Such expenses should be added to the basic obligation if they are predictable and recurring. Healthcare expenses for a child that exceed $250 per child per year that are not predictable and recurring should be shared by the parents in proportion to their relative incomes as incurred (i.e., the sharing of these expenses should be addressed in the general language of the order or judgment). Health care costs that are not included in the support award should be paid directly to the parent who made or will make the expenditure or directly to the provider of the health care (also, see N.J.S.A. 2A:34- 23b).

Other Expenses Approved by the Court - These are predictable and recurring expenses for children that may not be incurred by average or intact families, such as private elementary or secondary education, special needs of gifted or disabled children, and visitation transportation expenses. The addition of these expenses to the basic obligation must be approved by the court. If incurred, special expenses that are not predictable and recurring should be shared by the parents in proportion to their relative incomes (i.e., the sharing of these expenses should be addressed in the general language of the order or judgment). Special expenses not included in the award should be paid directly to the parent who made or will make the expenditure or to the provider of the goods or services.

Interestingly, transportation is often one of the most hotly contested issues. The parent receiving child support may object to being responsible for the child’s auto insurance, car payment or otherwise, as he/she may believe the child support amount is insufficient to cover all of the aforementioned expenses. So is automobile insurance for a child an expense within the guidelines or additional?

In a recently published trial Court opinion, Judge Jones decided the matter of Fichter v. Fichter, which attempts to clarify whether a parent who is already paying guideline-level child support is also obligated to contribute to the additional cost of an un-emancipated teenage child’s car insurance as a newly licensed driver.

Ultimately, Judge Jones held, “the family court, in its reasonable discretion, may increase or otherwise adjust guideline-level child support in a particular case to account for the additional cost of car insurance for a newly licensed teenage driver.”

“The court finds that, based upon the totality of a family's economic circumstances, a court may in its discretion find good cause to deviate from the guidelines and require each parent to contribute additional reasonable and affordable monies towards a newly licensed teenage driver's car insurance. Good cause may logically include, but not necessarily be limited to, the special nature and importance of car insurance and the need to adequately protect a child as a newly licensed driver.”

The implications of this case remain to be seen, but the well-reasoned decision provides some much needed insight and guidance on this issue.

It is critical that your agreements, consent orders, and decisions take into account all facets of child support and delineate what the parents intend to include within child support. It may be easy to agree to address the issue in the future, especially if the children are young and driving seems unfathomable, but taking the time to be detailed and specific in negotiations will save significant time and money for your family in the future.

 

Diana Fredericks, Esq., is a partner with Gebhardt & Kiefer, PC and devotes her practice solely to family law matters. Contact Ms. Fredericks for a consultation at 908-735-5161 or via email. Ms. Fredericks was named to the NJ Super Lawyers Rising Stars list in the practice of family law by Thomson Reuters in 2015 and 2016, and to the New Leaders of the Bar list by the New Jersey Law Journal in 2015.