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September of 2013 saw the addition of a new category of expenses which could be included among the child support calculation guidelines for children of divorce in the state of New Jersey: the costs of and relating to a child's car. However, what was not clear in those guidelines was whether or not the cost of car insurance should be considered to have been included in the initial calculation. Due to the very high cost of adding a new teen driver to a household's auto insurance policy, this issue had become a particularly sticky one for co-parents and family part judges to solve while still adhering to the guidelines. A recent decision from New Jersey Family Part Judge Lawrence Jones offers a solution for these parents, ruling that courts can deviate from child support guidelines in order to increase existing support payments to include a proportional share of the child's car insurance policy. 

The decision was issued in a case titled Fichter v. Fichter. The mother, the custodial parent of the couple's 17-year-old daughter, had sought additional financial support from the father when the daughter obtained her driver's license and was added to the household's car insurance policy. The father was already making a weekly support payment in an amount decided according to the New Jersey guidelines, and did not respond to the mother's request for additional support. The mother turned to the Family Part judge with a motion for increased support in an amount reflecting the father's proportional share of the daughter's insurance policy.

The court concluded that the increase in child support was justified. Judge Jones first stated that, while support payments made according to the guidelines are presumed to be a correct amount, that amount can be increased where the recipient parent can show that "circumstances exist that make a guideline-based award inappropriate in a specific case." The judge explained that, if the guidelines were intended to include the cost of a child's car insurance once it existed, then support should not be increased once the child actually obtained her license and insurance. This would mean that the custodial parent would suddenly have a much greater financial burden with no additional support. Judge Jones concluded that it did not seem to be a fair result to interpret the guidelines as including the costs of car insurance, but that even if the guidelines did intend to include the cost of car insurance, a court could still increase support payments over the guideline amount where a parent could show good cause to do so. Here, since it is in both the best interests of the child and other drivers for a teen driver to be insured, and since the cost of insuring a teen is a dramatic and sudden addition to a family's budget, good cause existed to increase the father's support payment amount to cover a portion of the daughter's car insurance.

If you are seeking experienced, compassionate legal assistance with a family law issue, contact Morristown's family law attorneys at Smith & Doran for a consultation on your case, at 973-292-0016.

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