0

When Child Support is Excessive

Throughout both New Jersey and Pennsylvania, high income earning families are not controlled by child support guidelines but rather, an individual analysis is required of the reasonable needs of children. It has always been presumed, and the courts have always ruled that the good fortune of a high income earning parent should “trickle down” for the children. Children of high income earners generally have more options available to them, are involved in more activities, vacations, and tend to enjoy the accoutrements of a more lavish lifestyle, including education.

However, are there limits? Is it prudent that the budget of a family of extremely high earners should never be questioned? The Appellate Division in New Jersey has recently decided a matter which will have implications on both sides of the river.

Michael Strahan was a star linebacker for the New York Giants in the National Football League for years. He separated from his wife, having married in July 1999, and his wife had twin girls, born October 2004. A divorce was filed in March 2005 with joint legal custody being granted.

There is no question that the marital standard of living was well in excess of $1,000,000 per year for the family. Therefore, the question became one of the “reasonable need” of the children. The trial Court awarded $630,000 per year solely on behalf of the children! Further, the Court ordered the father to be responsible for 91% of the entire award. Strahan appealed.

In an enlightening decision, the Appellate Court reversed much of the monthly child support award and determined that the obligation was “beyond their reasonable needs,” referring to the children. The reasonableness of the children’s needs included such items as $30,000 in landscaping, audio visual expenses of $3,000 per year, and $36,000 per year for equipment and furnishings on behalf of the children. The Appellate Division concluded that these needs were completely unreasonable and were not given scrutiny by the trial Court, likely because of the high level of income of Mr. Strahan. The Court’s attitude is made clear from the rhetorical question, “How many ponies does one child need?” The Court reversed the decision. The importance of this decision demonstrates that in all cases where the overall income exceeds the maximum encompassed by child support guidelines, the Court must do an exhaustive analysis of the actual and reasonable needs of the children. While not disputing that the needs of the children of high income earners may be greater, there should not be a “carte blanche” approach to awarding child support. Excesses should be obvious and discouraged.

Therefore, when analyzing what a child support obligation is, it is important for parties and their attorneys to analyze the reasonableness of expenses being claimed, the actual details of the expenses, and to be able to justify those expenses to a Court. While the child support award may still be substantial, it is in no way limitless.

0

Cherry Hill Divorce Lawyers: Child Abuse and Neglect During Divorce in New Jersey

The mistreatment of a child is a serious issue at any time, but during a divorce or child custody case it can be even more complicated and devastating. Child abuse occurs when a parent or guardian permits or inflicts physical, mental, or sexual injury or suffering upon a minor. Child neglect occurs when a parent or guardian fails to provide adequate care or conditions for a child, or allows a child to be at risk of physical or emotional harm. Child abuse and neglect are criminal offenses in most states, and they can also have a significant impact on child custody decisions during divorce in New Jersey.

If a parent is found guilty of child neglect or abuse, physical custody is typically out of the question, and even visitation rights can be curtailed or denied. Being accused of and investigated for child abuse can also have a negative effect on a parent’s ability to gain visitation or custody rights. Because accusations of child abuse can have a profound effect on a custody hearing, it is sadly not unheard of for false allegations of abuse or neglect to be made during such hearings. Falsely accusing someone of child abuse is itself a serious offense, and when false accusations are made they tend to backfire, resulting in loss of custody for the accuser.

False Abuse Accusations and Proper Reporting

Any parent that sincerely suspects his or her spouse of abuse or neglect should take steps to protect the child and follow the proper process for documenting and reporting it. Taking the child to a medical professional for treatment and examination, then filing a report with the authorities is a good course of action. While episodes of child abuse, especially physical abuse, can be documented relatively easily, claims of neglect and/or emotional abuse can be more difficult to substantiate. Although child neglect can represent a broad range of issues, it typically needs to be chronic or recurring in order to be used in a court case. Parents should avoid bringing trivial issues to the table during a custody battle, as they contribute little and tend to lead to pointless arguments.

Cherry Hill Divorce Lawyers at the Law Offices of Richard C. Klein Focus on Helping Families

If you have concerns about child abuse, child neglect, or child custody, or if you are considering a divorce in New Jersey, call the Law Offices of Richard C. Klein at 856-988-5470, or contact us online to schedule a confidential consultation with an experienced Cherry Hill divorce lawyers. We are dedicated to striving for the best possible outcome for our clients and their families.

0

The Effect of Special Needs Children and Autism on Divorce

Much has been written and discussed of late with regard to the faltering economy and the impact on couples seeking divorce. I have found in my more than thirty years of practice that while the economy has certainly been a factor, people choose to terminate a relationship regardless of the state of the economy. Obviously, the impact of valuation of assetsalimony, and child support is affected by the housing market and the falling stock market.

However, an issue not often discussed or reported is the effect on a marriage and divorce of a special needs/autistic child. The rate of autism and the rate of divorce appear to be increasing annually. I have found that Courts are often confronted now with issues concerning autistic children or children on the autism spectrum. These issues demand special attention by the Courts and are often misunderstood by attorneys as well.

I have found that the stress of an ASD child (Autism Syndrome Disability) often is the straw that breaks the camel’s back with regard to marriages that are already experiencing considerable stress.

Autism is a pervasive developmental disorder of the brain. While its cause is unknown, its impact on behavior and its additional stress caused upon the family is clear. Autism is also a spectrum. Children are considered to be high functioning to nonfunctioning. The Autism Society of America indicates that autism now affects approximately 1 out of every 100 children born in the United States.

When parties are in marital discord and conflict, the demand of an autistic child or a special needs child often increases stress, hostilities, and demands in a significant fashion. Whether the child has speech difficulties or is unable to speak, to a child who engages in an obsessive compulsive disorder, the demand upon the parents are manifest. The requirement of parents for increased supervision of children on the autism spectrum is also tremendously increased. Hence, there are numerous challenging aspects to children who suffer from this disorder, and as a result, the pressures and demands on parents make a difficult matter even worse.

Parents who are undergoing marital discord are wise to immediately engage professional assistance and structure a plan to share the responsibilities of caring for special needs children. If they are unable to do so, the issues in any subsequent divorce become even more difficult. Custody becomes not simply a matter of what is in the best interest of the child, but which parent understands and can care for the autistic child in a fashion that demonstrates that they can meet the hugely increased time and other demands. Interestingly, while professionals often oversee and administer the therapy for the child, it is the parents and other family members who must learn how to reinforce the therapist’s plan. This is where I have seen a tremendous breakdown between the parents. Hence, this can often accelerate the demise of the marriage.

It is not uncommon for a parent to be required to leave or modify their career as a result of dealing with an autistic or developmentally disabled child. This has a direct impact on the income of the family and relates directly to issues of alimony and child support. There are often additional costs and expenses, whether it be therapy, special education, or additional professional support that again increases the strain between parents, and requires attorneys to structure their cases far differently than a case without such issues.

Methods of determining custody are tremendously altered and must be much more carefully analyzed by Judges and attorneys when dealing with children suffering from this disorder. Which parent will be the primary residential custodian of the child? The criteria of the fitness of the parents, needs of the child, the safety of the child, and the quality of the child’s education, now must be looked at in far more detail by the Courts, and often times there must be a greater reliance upon professionals.

I have often found that one parent in a divorce proceeding either fails to acknowledge the existence of a problem or the severity of that problem. This is a factor that is absolutely critical to take into consideration by the Court. A parent’s willingness to increase his or her education about the needs of the child is also required, as is the parent’s history of being an advocate for the child. I often ask my client what they know about special education, why they believe it is necessary, what they have done for the child in terms of therapeutic support, what issues of medication exist, if any, and what behavioral therapy, if any, is anticipated in the future. If a parent cannot answer these basic questions, then it is unlikely that they should be the primary custodial parent of the child.

Shared legal custody is also greatly affected when dealing with an autistic child. While I am a tremendous proponent of parents sharing time with their children as equally as possible, this may not necessarily be in the best interests of an autistic child or a child on the autism spectrum. These children require tremendous consistency and are used to consistency. They often thrive in a more structured environment. The “back and forth” which is often required in a shared custodial arrangement may simply not work.

A Court must also carefully structure how decisions are made when dealing with children with developmental disorders and autism. It is absolutely critical to minimize conflicts between the parents with reference to therapy, intervention, behavioral modification, and structure. I strongly urge that parents, particularly when dealing in divorce litigation, utilize highly skilled professionals in the field to assist them in effectuating a plan.

IMPACT OF COSTS AND EXPENSES

The New Jersey Child Support Guidelines set forth a schedule by which child support is set. However, because they are guidelines, autistic children may present special circumstances that will cause the Court to deviate from those guidelines in the face of mounting extraordinary costs such as set forth above. In addition, there may be private school tuition for an autistic child, and special additional care may be required at home. These are all factors the Court must consider when giving a child support award in these circumstances.

Alimony may also be impacted. For example, a parent who has the ability to get back into the workforce under normal circumstances may have that opportunity removed from them as a result of having an autistic child at home. Therefore, while it may normally not be considered reasonable for a parent who has been home with a child not to get back into the workforce and utilize outside sources for childcare, parents of autistic children may not have that option simply because it may not be in the child’s best interest. Again, consistency for the child is key. This, in turn, therefore creates yet an additional financial pressure for both parties when divorcing.

There are numerous other issues that are impacted. These include whether or not the former marital home, which had been the residence of the child, should be sold or not; whether it is possible to establish a fund for the child going forward; and even whether or not a 50/50 distribution for equitable distribution purposes of assets is reasonable when one parent has the lion’s share of the responsibility of caring for an autistic child.

There is no question that Family Court Judges are now faced with more than the normal criteria that they would find in most custody/parenting time cases. The ability of an attorney to adequately assist the Court in understanding a specific condition is critical.

It is strongly urged that when families with special needs children are divorcing, that they are satisfied that the attorney whom they choose to represent them is fully versed in these issues.