Supporting an Adult Disabled Child After a New Jersey Divorce
In a recent unpublished New Jersey appellate case, a father appealed an order adjusting his child support obligations. The couple had married in 1985 and had three kids. They divorced in 1999. Their divorce judgment required the father to pay $450 on a biweekly basis and to keep his kids as beneficiaries on his health insurance.
The father bought a home in New Jersey to give his kids a stable environment. In 2005, the father and mother executed a rental agreement that provided the father would give the mother rent-free occupancy of a three-bedroom home for herself and the kids instead of child support. The defendant was required to make mortgage payments, but the mother had to pay for utilities and maintenance. The agreement started in 2005 and ended in 2013.
In 2000, the father moved out of state to work as a financial consultant. His annual gross income was about $231,000, while the mother’s last full-time job was in 2011, and she earned about $52,000 each year. In 2012, she went to nursing school. Both children were over the age of 18 for the time period that was relevant to the case. One daughter went to school in Oregon, and her father paid her tuition. The other daughter went to school in New Jersey but came back to the mother’s home for holidays, weekends, and half of the summer. The son received Social Security Supplemental Income because he had severe nonverbal infantile autism and needed substantial daily care and supervision due to inabilities in the realms of speaking, dressing, bathing, shaving, wiping, and brushing his teeth.
The mother asked the father to pay for one of the daughter’s college expenses and to extend the rental agreement. She also asked the father to pay for the son’s annual summer camp and gym membership, and she asked for the children to stay on his health insurance. The defendant asked the court to establish what his child support obligations were for two of the children.
After a hearing, the trial court decided the rental agreement would continue. The defendant also had to pay additional child support for the son and the other daughter’s ancillary college expenses. The father appealed.
The father challenged the extension of the rental agreement on appeal. The lower court had determined that the parties had the financial resources to give their son housing in a single-family home. It found there were unique circumstances, so it was fair to keep the status quo with regard to the son and daughter’s housing unless there was a change in circumstances.
The appellate court explained that under N.J.S.A. 2A:34-23, the court can make an order as to the children’s care, custody, education, and maintenance based on the circumstances, according to what it found reasonable, just, and fit. Using the rental property instead of child support was the status quo, and in the past the father had offered to continue the rental agreement. In his cross motion to the court, he didn’t ask for a discontinuance but only for a monthly financial credit. The trial court determined that because of their disabled son’s shrieking and giggling in the middle of the night, it was necessary for the son to live with the mother in a single-family home. The court subtracted the rental value from the child support obligation it calculated and gave the defendant that credit.
The father argued that the housing costs should have been determined using a marginal cost method. The lower court used an estimate based on the rental value set forth in the rental agreement. The court was supposed to determine whether the primary recipient of a housing cost was the mother or the child. In this case, the benefit to the mother was incidental, while the benefits were to the two children. For these and other reasons, the lower court’s judgment was affirmed.
If you are considering divorce in Bergen County, and you are concerned about child support obligations for disabled 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.