The New Jersey Child Support Guidelines require that one party be designated as the Parent of Primary Residence. In most situations, the Parent of Primary Residence is clear. However, in shared parenting time arrangements, neither parent is technically Parent of Primary Residence, because the parties have equal overnight parenting time with the children.
Why does this designation matter? Because the New Jersey Child Support Guidelines state that child support is divided into three categories: fixed expenses (representing 38% of the child support obligation), variable expenses (representing 37% of the child support obligation), and controlled expenses (representing 25% of the child support amount).
Fixed expenses are incurred by both parents despite whether the child is residing with the parent at that time. These costs include housing-related expenses, such as mortgage, rent, utilities, and furnishings. Variable costs are also incurred by both parents and are only incurred by a parent when the child is with the parent. These expenses include transportation costs and food.
The third and last category of a child support award is “controlled expenses.” These expenses include clothing, entertainment, and personal care. While the Child Support Guidelines recognize that both parents incur fixed and variable expenses, the guidelines presume that only the Parent of Primary Residence incurs controlled expenses, and apportion controlled expenses between the parties based on their income shares.
In Benisch v. Benisch, the Appellate Division recognized that, in true Shared Parenting Time Arrangements, the New Jersey Child Support Guidelines are unfair because both parties are incurring “controlled costs” for the child, but the Guidelines only give this credit to the Parent of Primary Residence. The Guidelines therefore result in the payor paying these expenses as child support, and again to the child during their own parenting time. The Court in Benisch recognized that an adjustment to the payor’s child support obligation was needed to correct this oversight, and remanded the case to the trial court to determine said adjustment. However, the Court in Benisch failed to set forth a specific formula for making this adjustment.
Thus, until recently, divorce attorneys have had little guidance from the Court regarding this adjustment. However, Deffler v. Deffler sets forth a specific formula for adjusting the payor’s child support to take into account that both parents pay controlled expenses. In a well-written opinion, the trial court judge outlined a three- step formula to make the necessary adjustments. First, the basic child support amount should be multiplied by the payor’s income share. Second, that figure should then be multiplied by 25%, which is the amount of the child support obligation attributable to the controlled expenses. Third, that figure is then subtracted from the payor’s “Adjusted Basic Child Support Amount.” The result of this opinion is that the controlled expenses are “backed out”from the payor’s child support obligation, so they no longer incur these expenses twice.
This opinion clarifies a previously ambigious area of family law, and gives divorce attorneys and courts alike much needed guidance in calculating child support in shared parenting time arrangements.