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Reform Child Support Laws in NJ

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I have been divorced for over seven (7) years from the father of my two children.  At the time we divorced, I waived alimony in exchange for above guidelines child support because I just wanted to make sure that my children were taken care of.  We had a mediated divorce that took less than 10 months and cost less than $8K.  My former husband and I had joint custody of our children, however, he failed to fulfill the full terms of our property settlement agreement (PSA).  I still do 80% of the parenting… and my income has yo-yo’d with the economy.  I have never taken my ex-husband to court for enforcement of our PSA… it takes time and money – which has been a limited commodity over these years.

Fast forward to January 2013, I received a letter from a lawyer representing my ex-husband… that he wanted to reduce his child support.  This was on the heels of two months of my being un- and under-employed post Hurricane Sandy.  I was forced to retain counsel after attempting to speak with my ex-husband about trying to work things out amicable.  He refused.  He had another child with another woman.  He has an MBA from NYU, he clearly must have thought that he could afford to have another child (when we were married, we recognized we could not afford a third child).  I am remarried and recognized that I could NOT afford to have any more children.  The only attorney he interviewed must have given him the impression that by having another child, he can be relieved of this financial responsibility for our two children and undo our entire divorce agreement.

I have borrowed over $12K from my family to pay for legal services thus far, which have included two mediation sessions and one hearing before a family court judge in Monmouth County.  At no point in time has my former husband, nor his counsel acted in good faith nor demonstrated any willingness to come to some reasonably agreeable terms.  He has failed to meet the legal definition of “change of circumstance”: no loss of income, no loss of job, no illness or disability.

My ex-husband’s gross income has increased significantly since our divorce, while my income level has not.  Our children are now teenagers… their costs are greater than that of a toddler or infant.  My ex-husband asked me to live in a certain area after our divorce, so in purchasing a home for our children to live in, child support payments have been included in my mortgage applications because they are applicable (and I was under the assumption they could not change because that was the agreement for the waiver of alimony).  My ex-husband is now married and his wife (the mother of the child) has a salary that is accountable for the care of their child.  Over the years, my ex-husband never paid the shared “extra” expenses in a timely manner (which were accounted in our PSA and include medical fees) – for which I have been forced to provide him with interest-free financing.

According to the rational world, I had a reduction in my income; however, my ex-husband thinks we earn the same amount (he earns 3-5x more).  This still not resolved and my legal fees are still escalating. 

Essentially, I have had to borrow money – and plunge further in debt - to protect my children from their own father.  Child support belongs to our children.  It is supposed to help cover their cost of living while in my home.  It never has been enough… and I work.  I put my children’s needs before my own.  I have turned down work opportunities in other states to keep my children near their father.  My children have medical needs that require regular medical visits.  I am the one who takes them to every appointment – not their father.  I don’t even have health insurance for myself (because I cannot afford it).  Ironically, my ex-husband is having ANOTHER child… despite his claims that he can’t afford the ones he already has.

Parenting time must be better defined… sleep overs are not enough.  When my children are sick, I am the one who takes them to the doctor, they stay at my home on sick days.  When there are half days or professional days at school – they stay at my home.  I am responsible for their transportation needs for extracurricular activities.  Nobody is paying my time or gas to get my children where they need to go and their father is not doing it.  Their lives don’t start at 6pm.  I have been the only parent willing to flex my schedule to care for our children.  As a result of this, I have been a consultant – without a salary, without health insurance benefits – but able to care for my children.  My ex-husband has a salary.  His decision to continue to reproduce should not affect our children’s quality of life while they are in my home and care.

There needs to be better definition of what IS and what is NOT covered in child support.  Right now, there are too many REAL costs of raising children that are left open for interpretation and are often the cause of many disputes.  What are REAL costs of shelter, associated utilities, food and perhaps real clothes costs for kids in NJ?  Supplies for school, class trips, cell phones, gifts (for teachers or attending birthday parties), extra-curricular activities, etc. cannot reasonably be accounted for within the current child support equations.   I can only speak for myself… in years when my income was lean; I maxed out credit cards to keep my kids clothes and fed versus taking my ex-husband to court.

We agreed to above-guidelines child support – which should not change.  While Alimony reform is being discussed, I urge NJ to consider looking realistically at the formula used to calculate child support (last updated in 1994).  It does not reflect the current cost of raising a child, modestly, in NJ.  You wonder why single mothers and children live near the poverty level?   A friend of mine is a bankruptcy attorney in NJ and she said more divorced mothers in NJ file for bankruptcy because the child support guidelines are just so unrealistic.

When I got married and had children, I had no idea I would get divorced.  When we went through our divorce, I only asked for our kids’ needs to be considered.  I could not anticipate future case law at the time we agreed to the terms of our PSA.  My children are not an equation.  They have become accustomed to a quality of living for the last 7 years (and those years when I was married to their father) that should not be compromised by their father’s desire to continue to have children – at least when they are with me. 

I think it is a shame that any attorney would knowingly pursue legal actions taking money away from minor children.  This is sick and the family court system is just as much to blame.  I am the one who suffers from the stress and aggravation.   My children are aware of the adversarial situation their father has created after seven years of divorce without issue.  They have always been aware of their father’s shortcomings.   

My ex-husband’s motion was denied by the court, yet the judge opened up can of worms by suggesting that we go to mediation while refusing to let our attorneys argue our case when our court time finally arrived.  My ex-husband and his counsel have run up my legal tab – never once coming to the table with any reasonable offer.  My attorney has suggested that the MOST my ex is entitled to for an “other dependent” deduction is minimal; it does not entitle him to undo our entire divorce property settlement agreement.  This does not take into consideration his increased income, the income of his new child’s mother AND the fact that teens cost more than toddlers.

It is stressful enough to make a living and take care of two teens, let alone have to worry about affording legal services and a legal system that essentially permits my ex-husband to keep bullying me through frivolous legal proceedings.   There needs to be legal reform to prevent attorneys from taking people – like us – to the bank.  They failed to prove substantial change of circumstance and provided perjured and factually incorrect papers to the court.  They failed to participate appropriately at two mediations (the second one court-ordered).  I should not be forced to plunge further into debt because of unethical and negligent practices of the attorneys my ex-husband chose to retain or due to his narcissistic personality disorder.

Where is the sanctity in the PSA/Divorce agreement as a binding contract in NJ?  Why spend time and money on them in the first place if the courts will not uphold them?  Some case law opens up a can of worms to potentially undo agreements prior to those decisions – which can create a litigation nightmare for many families (and the court system). 

My children and I should be entitled to “peace of mind” – in that there have been financial decisions made (i.e. to buy a house or live in a town) based upon assumptions (child support).  If my ex-husband continues to procreate – that should not impact my children’s ability to live where they have been for the last 7 years.  To suggest that we move or sell our home (change schools) because their father is having more children (and will ultimately be spending less time with his first two) is just not right.

Our PSA required that we each obtain significant life insurance policies to ensure the financial care of our children in the unlikely event that one of us dies.  Why is my children’s financial well-being only accounted for if a parent dies, versus while they are living?  Based on our agreed upon life insurance coverage – my ex-husband would be paying child support for 41 years to equal the cost of that policy’s value.  Right now, my ex-husband has a little over 9 years left to pay for child support.

I ask that you share this with anyone and everyone you know - especially in NJ - but anywhere.  The fact is that divorce can happen to anyone.  It is tough being a single parent - not just financially, but in being around for one's kids.  There must be some sanctity for the divorce agreement and property settlement agreement as a binding contract.  Children MUST be protected during divorce (and until they emancipate).  There is power in numbers!

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