Child support is often a major concern for parents when divorcing. Attorneys often say calculating child support is relatively straightforward because, in New Jersey, there are Child Support Guidelines that will be presumably accepted by both the parties and the court. These guidelines are used to calculate the amount of child support one parent will have to pay to the other. However, the court has discretion in calculating the final amount based on several factors. Issues such as the ages of the children, the income of the parents, special needs, education costs and the child’s income or ability to earn income are factors the court considers in calculating child support.
The goal in arriving at the accurate child support for you is that the children are properly cared for physically, emotionally and in a healthy manner. It doesn’t matter which parent a child ultimately lives with. Both parents, by law, are required to care for and meet the needs of the child.
Child support payments continue until a child is emancipated. Emancipation may, or may not, be at 18 years of age. Generally, emancipation occurs upon the graduation of college. Regardless, the law is that child support stops when a child moves beyond the sphere of influence of their parents. In other words, when the child is self-sufficient.
Special Needs Children and Child Support
If you have a special needs child or children, child support may never stop. A special needs child may never move beyond the sphere of influence of their parents and may never be self-sufficient. Consequently, each family’s situation is evaluated on a case by case basis and wholly dependent on the facts and circumstances of each case.
Two significant factors that must be considered are the nature of the child’s special needs and what intervention or therapy the child receives to address those needs.
Child support may never stop for special needs children. Actually, additional support above and beyond basic child support may be required to care for a child with special needs, including any extraordinary needs.
What are Extraordinary Needs?
Extraordinary needs may include the following:
- Specialized therapy like physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech therapy
- Specialized equipment like a wheelchair, an automobile with a wheelchair lift, lavatory lifts or hoists
- Special dietary needs
- Alternate school and tuition expenses
- Transportation issues and costs
- Medical insurance coverage
- Home renovations necessary to accommodate the special needs child, including ramps, widening hallways, entryways, etc.
- Special supplies such as a blood pressure monitor or other medical supplies
- IEP (Individual Educational Plan)
There are many other considerations in a case that involves a special needs child because the needs of the child may frequently change. In every divorce case, there must be flexibility to make changes as the need arises. In a child support case, it’s crucial to receive support that the child requires. In cases involving special needs children, additional considerations are required to ensure all of the child’s needs are met.
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Jeralyn Lawrence, founder and Managing Partner of Lawrence Law, devotes her practice to matrimonial, divorce and family law. She is Second Vice President of the New Jersey State Bar Association, slated to be President in 2022 and First Vice President of the New Jersey Chapter of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers. Lawrence Law has offices in Watchung and Red Bank, New Jersey.