In New Jersey, a great deal goes into determining child support obligations. No doubt it’s much more than deciding affordability and the child’s needs. Overnight parenting time factors in as well.
The New Jersey Rules of Court, specifically Rule 5:6A provide an introduction to the use of Child Support Guidelines in establishing or modifying child support. The Guidelines require both parents to submit worksheets that request substantial information. Absent good cause, the court uses the guidelines to schedule support payments.
If you’re a mother or father ending a relationship, you won’t just need to provide information regarding your income. Among other things, you are also expected to share details regarding child care expenses and health insurance premiums.
Meanwhile, quantifying parenting time becomes critical as far as the court’s allocation of child support. As a matter of fact, you’ll need to supply information regarding the number of annual overnights your child (or children) shares with each parent. These overnights matter when it comes to using the Child Support Guidelines.
However, what exactly counts as overnight parenting time when it comes to determining child support? Although you might find this a somewhat rhetorical question, the answer might surprise you. More than likely, you’ll be interested to see what the court recently ruled on the issue.
Father Sought Child Support Modifications
The New Jersey Appellate Division decided Collette v. Welsh on March 28, 2019. According to the preface of the legal opinion, it is only binding on the named parties. That said, it represents some valuable insight concerning overnight visits.
According to the case history, Joseph Collette II and Brittany Welsh share custody of their son. Notably, there is no reference as to whether the parents ever married – nor is it important to the determination of child support payments.
After initially negotiating a parenting schedule and child support in November of 2017, the parents agreed to make changes to their original court order. On March 9, 2018, Joseph and Brittany executed three consent orders. It appears the changes all involved revisions to the parenting schedule.
A couple of weeks later, Joseph filed paperwork requesting that the court recalculate child support. In support of his request, the father submitted:
- Changed financial circumstances
- The omission of work-related childcare on the worksheet
- Inaccurate overnight shares based on new parenting schedule
Additionally. Joseph wanted to address controlled expenses incurred as a result of equally shared parenting time.
Defining Overnight Parenting Time
When the case was called to court, Joseph and Brittany met with a hearing officer. After reviewing the case, the hearing officer reviewed the parties’ income and agreed there was a change. Despite the new parenting schedule, the hearing officer decided to use the numbers agreed upon in 2017 as far as designated overnights.
When the parties first negotiated the parenting schedule, the child’s father received 209 overnights; the mother, 156. However, Joseph disagreed with the hearing officer’s calculations. As it turns out, the hearing officer only counted overnights as where the child slept at night.
Subsequently, Joseph asked to see the judge. He argued that “overnight” actually meant the majority of a twenty-four day. To make his point, Joseph referenced Appendix IX-A to Rule 5:6A. The definition within the appendix states: “Overnight means the majority of a 24-hour day (i.e., more than 12 hours).
The trial court judge rejected Joseph’s argument, stating:
I go by what we do in this courthouse. And I understand those guidelines. And in this courthouse when we make a determination, overnight is sleeping overnight at the house. And so we do not give that credit if the child is not sleeping over the house. Understand, those guidelines are — that's what's a guideline is, a guideline. So I follow what, what the family law judges have historically done. And that's . . . the way I will do it for this.
On appeal, the Appellate Division found that Joseph was entitled to a hearing. The trial court abused its discretion by choosing to ignore the meaning of the term “overnight” as defined in the Guidelines.
Meanwhile, the Appellate Division also addressed the issue of controlled expenses. Once again, the court found that it was necessary to determine overnights using the true definition.
The lower court’s decision was reversed and the case remanded for further consideration.
At the Law Offices of Sam Stoia, we assist parents in negotiating child support, custody, and parenting time. Contact us to schedule an appointment to discuss your concerns. There is no charge for our first one hour meeting.