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Do NJ Child Support Guidelines automatically allow for an increase when my kid reaches a certain age?

Simply put, the answer is no. In New Jersey, there are no automatic increases in child support under the NJ Child Support Guidelines.

The Case

In a recent case, Dunigan v. Wilson, the New Jersey Appellate Division rejected the trial court’s decision to increase child support by 14.6%* because one of the children reached the age of 12.

Here are the facts of this case. The parties got married in 1994. They had two children, in 1997 and 2000. The parties divorced in 2010. At the time of the entry of the child support obligation, only one child was over the age of twelve. Accordingly, they incorporated two sets of NJ Child Support Guidelines which included the 14.6% adjustment for the eldest because he was over the age of 12.

In 2016, the eldest child began residing full time away from either party. The defendant sought to emancipate him. The Court entered an Order emancipating this child on February 7, 2018. In that same Order, the trial court judge established child support for the youngest son by incorporating the 14.6% adjustment.  He had since passed the age of 12. Defendant’s counsel wrote to the trial court judge asking for an amended order because the 14.6% adjustment must be a clerical error. The trial court judge responded by stating that this was not an error. The appeal followed.

The Appeal

The Appellate Division found that the trial court erred by incorporating the 14.6% adjustment into its calculation. The initial child support order was entered in 2010 when the youngest child was not yet 12 years old. The new child support order at the time of the oldest child’s emancipation did not constitute an initial award under the definition of the guidelines. The 14.6% adjustment is based solely on the age of the child at the time of the initial child support order.

There are many reasons why a party may seek a modification in child support. Some of these may be a change in income or job status, the emancipation of a child or college contributions. On the other hand, a reason for a change in child support is not simply the age of the child.

If you have any questions about this blog, child support, emancipation or other family law matters, please contact me.

A Note About New Jersey Child Support Guidelines

* The 14.6% adjustment is based on the age of the child at the time of the initial child support order.  It is not related to other reasons that may support an application for an award of child support outside of the NJ guidelines. The basis for the 14.6% adjustment is built into the guidelines because they assume child support expenses for the life of a child from 0-18 averaged out over time. The guidelines also acknowledge that as a child gets older, the expenses increase.  Therefore, if a child is over the age of twelve at the time of an initial award, he or she would not get the full support for which they are entitled. Accordingly, the guidelines have incorporated this 14.6% adjustment to apply to all child support orders issued for a child that is 12 or older.

That adjustment would remain in all future child support orders for that child.

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