Many parents ask do I have to pay child support if I am unemployed. The simple answer to that question is, it depends on the reason why you are unemployed.
When determining child support, the family court will apply the Child Support Guidelines. The Guidelines were developed to provide the Court with economic information to assist in the establishment and modification of fair and adequate child support awards. The premise of these guidelines is three-fold: (1) child support is a continuous duty of both parents, (2) children are entitled to share in the current income of both parents, and (3) children should not be the economic victims of divorce or out-of-wedlock birth.
The economic data and procedures of the Child Support Guidelines attempts to simulate the percentage of parental net income that is spent on children in intact families. While it is acknowledged that the expenditures of two-household divorced, separated, or non- formed families are different from intact-family households, it is very important that children not be forced to live in poverty because of family disruption and that they be afforded the same opportunities available to children in intact families with parents of similar financial means as their own parents.
The Guidelines themselves are based on the combined net income of the parents. However, please note, the net income utilized in the Guidelines is not the net income a parent receives in their payment. Rather, for purposes of the Guidelines, is using a parent’s gross income minus income taxes, mandatory union dues, mandatory retirement, previously ordered child support orders, and, when appropriate, a theoretical child support obligation for other dependents.
A major issue many parents face when confronted with a child support application is, what do I pay in support if I am not employed. The answer depends largely on your ability to work and earn a living. Income, in connection to the Guidelines, is measured, not by the parent’s actual income, but by their earning potential. Meaning, if the Family Judge finds that either parent is, without just cause, voluntarily underemployed or unemployed, it shall impute income to that parent.
In determining whether income should be imputed, the Court will consider: what the employment status and earning capacity of that parent would have been if the family had remained intact or would have formed, the reason and intent for the voluntary underemployment or unemployment, the availability of other assets that may be used to pay support, and the ages of any children in the parent’s household and child-care alternatives.
When determine the appropriate amount of income to impute, the Court will examine: a parent’s work history, occupational qualifications, educational background, and prevailing job opportunities in the region. The court may also impute income based on the parent’s former income at that person’s usual or former occupation or the average earnings for that occupation as reported by the New Jersey Department of Labor (NJDOL). Further, if a NJDOL wage or benefit record is not available, impute income based on the full-time employment (40 hours) at the prevailing New Jersey minimum wage.
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Also, when imputing income to a parent who is caring for young children, the parent’s income share of child-care costs necessary to allow that person to work outside the home shall be deducted from the imputed income. If you are someone you love is involved in a family dispute, please contact our office for assistance at (908)-356-6900.
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