In the unpublished opinion of Maynard v. Michna, the Superior Court of New Jersey considered child support obligations for parents supporting children who were born during multiple relationships. The defendant father appealed, and the plaintiff mother cross-appealed.
The parents met in California while working for the same company. The defendant lived in Georgia at the time, while the mother lived in California. Both were divorced with a special needs child. The mother and her older child moved to the defendant’s Georgia house. The mother decided New Jersey schools were better for her son’s special needs, and she relocated. The couple continued long distance dating, and they had a child together. He was born in 2011 in New Jersey. Four months later, they concluded their relationship.
The defendant paid child support to the child voluntarily. The plaintiff sued for sole custody, child support, and contribution toward their son’s financial expenses. The court held an evidentiary hearing on these issues. At the hearing, the parents agreed that they would share joint legal custody and that the child would live with the plaintiff. The defendant waived his parenting time. The parents established a process whereby the defendant would pay for activity expenses greater than $150 per event that weren’t payable through child support. They also agreed to alternate the tax dependency exemption.
The plaintiff worked as a medical sales representative. Her income was enhanced in 2012 with redeemed stock options. She also got investment income. She received monthly support for her older child as well. She and her sons lived in her parents’ home, but she hoped to get her own place. In addition to child support from the defendant, she wanted the defendant to pay 60% for their son’s past medical expenses and future costs, payment for extraordinary items, and college contributions.
The defendant attacked her claimed expenses, including the cost of the nanny who took care of both children, rather than just the defendant’s child. He testified about his income, suggesting that the child support should be determined based on the average of the prior four years’ earnings for both. He claimed that he’d had extraordinary earnings in 2012, and it was unlikely he’d have those again. He also explained his other son who lived with his mother had certain financial needs. He claimed that the plaintiff was used to a certain lifestyle because her parents were rich, and he couldn’t afford this lifestyle or match it. He suggested his contributions needed to be limited to day care costs.
The parents presented expert opinions about the son’s school costs as a child with special needs, as well as the psychiatric needs of the defendant’s other son in Missouri. The trial judge set the defendant’s weekly child support obligation for the New Jersey child using the parents’ average income, which was greater than the Guidelines limits. The judge reduced the nanny costs.
Both parents appealed. The defendant argued the judge didn’t provide equality in treatment for his special needs child and the parties’ child and didn’t consider the funds received to support the mother’s older child. The plaintiff’s cross-appeal challenged how income was determined and asked that more money should be set aside in trust for her son’s future expenses, among other things.
The appellate court explained that child support was necessary for their children’s basic needs to be met. N.J.S.A. 2A:34-23(a) describes the factors to consider. If an order based on child support guidelines would be unfair, the court could disregard the award if good cause was shown. In the context of children from multiple relationships, the guidelines ask the court to consider multiple family obligations and not favor one family over another.
It found that the gross taxable income described by the lower court was out of sync with the parents’ tax documents, and the case was a high income case because the parties’ combined net yearly incomes were greater than $187,200. It reasoned that the defendant had not provided the appropriate specific economic analysis to show which costs should be changed. However, it found that the lower court had improperly attributed 75% of the total expenses for the nanny as childcare for the parties’ son, when the older son needed the nanny too.
The trial judge had also failed to reconcile the plaintiff’s conflicting testimony about her other expenses for the parties’ son. The appellate court concluded the trial judge didn’t adequately look at the defendant’s claim of additional support for his special needs son, and whether the defendant’s ability to meet the other son’s need would be undercut by the order for the parties’ shared son. For the most part, the court rejected the plaintiff’s issues raised on cross-appeal.
The appellate court vacated the order of 2014 and sent the case back for further consideration.
If you are considering divorce in Bergen County, and you are concerned about child support obligations for multiple children, it is important to retain an experienced and aggressive child support attorney to seek an appropriate outcome. Contact the lawyers of Leopold Law at (201) 345-5907 or through our online form. We have attorneys available who can handle all aspects of a divorce.