Expectation of Parental Income

Parents have the obligation to provide support for their children.  To that end, during a custody case, a court will make an order of child support.  Unlike spousal support, child support is based on a very specific formula.  The formula uses both parents’ income to calculate support, not just the income of the parent paying support.  The idea behind this is that if the parents lived in the same household together, they would both be financially supporting the child together, and that should not change just because the parents no longer cohabitate.  The calculator does take some other factors into account to adjust parental income and how much parenting time awarded to each parent.  The important take away from this, however, is that there is an expectation that both parties will generate income to help financially provide for the child.

New Jersey law provides guidance for those situations wherein one of the parents is voluntarily unemployed or underemployed but support still needs to be set.  In those situations, the child support is based on the underemployed parent’s earning capacity.  The most common way to determine income capacity is to determine what the parent would probably earn based on their employment history, education level, and community average for that type of work.  The court will often use a handbook called the New Jersey Department of Labor Wage and Occupation Survey to look at what the average wage is in the profession of the underemployed parent.  The handbook provides average incomes for professions across the state and also broken down by individual county.

In some cases, one parent may not have any income.  This could be for a variety of reasons, but in many cases it is because one parent has been a stay at home parent for a long time and has not worked outside the home.  Unless that parent is unable to work, he or she will be expected to reenter the workforce.  Moreover, if the parent has been a stay-at-home parent throughout the marriage, imputing an income to that parent can also have an impact on an alimony calculation.  The law does not, however, require that a court impute an income to a stay-at-home parent.

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