Many parents paying child support have likely found themselves in the position of being asked to contribute additional money to a child’s expenses that they presumed their child support payments were intended to cover. Here we examine the issue of Child Support – Car Insurance. As children get older and engage in numerous (and more expensive activities), these requests can potentially multiply and overwhelm many a child support obligor, and, simply put, can break the bank. So what exactly does child support cover, and what is excluded? The Honorable Lawrence R. Jones, J.S.C., of Ocean County opined on that question, and the answer could have a big impact on your wallet and your children.
The Child Support Guidelines provide rules on the purpose of child support, how child support should be calculated, and what child support paid pursuant to the Guidelines, is intended to be used for. When child support is calculated pursuant to the Guidelines, the following expense categories are considered a part of the obligation paid on behalf of the child 1:
- Unreimbursed Health Care (Up to and including $250 Per Child Per Year)
- Entertainment, and
- Miscellaneous Items
However, careful attention must be paid to what is included in each expense category and what is not. For example, while a child’s clothing, shoes, and even their school uniforms are included in the Clothing category, “special footwear for sports” is specifically exempted, and thus child support paid pursuant to the Guidelines does not include a child’s soccer cleats or bowling shoes2.
Under the Guidelines, and the subject of Judge Jones’ decision in Fichter v. Fichter, 2015 N.J.Super. LEXIS 220 (Ch. Div. 2016), additional exclusions include “expenses associated with a motor vehicle purchased or leased for the intended primary use of a child subject to the support order.” It should be noted that the Transportation category does include “all costs involved with owning or leasing an automobile including principal cost, finance charges (interest), lease payments, gas and motor oil, insurance, maintenance and repairs.”3 However, The Guidelines do go on to state that a modification to the Child Support award may be warranted when a car has been “purchased or leased for the intended primary use of a child subject to the support order.”4
Child Support – Car Insurance: The Guidelines were updated in 2013 to include those provisions regarding a vehicle acquired for the child’s primary use. With the update many parents were left wondering what their child support covers and what can reasonably be requested by a parent receiving child support, above and beyond the child support obligation once their child reaches driving age. This is where the parents in Fichter found themselves when their Divorce Settlement Agreement was silent on how to treat car insurance expenses for their teenage daughter.5
In a case of first impression, Judge Jones decided that because a Guidelines child support award specifically excludes expenses incurred for a child’s vehicle (including car insurance), the Court or the parties may deviate from the Guidelines “to account for the additional cost of car insurance for a newly licensed teenage driver.”6 This was necessary as the 2013 amendments created much ambiguity in the legal community over what the Guidelines would and would not cover.7
As this is a published decision, it carries with it precedential and binding weight in our courts. Understanding the Child Support Guidelines and what your child support does and does not cover is critically important when you find yourself negotiating an Agreement that includes provisions for child support, or when you find yourself in Court, requesting or facing the establishment of a child support award. Consulting with an attorney before or during this process is crucial to save yourself to the best of your abilities (and those of your attorney) from facing what the parties’ did in Fichter. To learn more about the Child Support Guidelines and how to protect yourself now and in the future, contact Jacobs Berger, LLC, for a consultation today.
1 Pressler, Current N.J. Court Rules, Appendix IX-A to R. 5:6A at §8 (2016)
4 Id. at §21 (p).
5 Fichter, supra, 2015 N.J.Super. LEXIS at *3.
6 Id. at *1.
7 Id. at *1.