Modifications of Child Support for Parents Who Go Back to College

There are a variety of reasons why a child support amount may be modified over time; however, the underlying theme is generally a change in circumstances. This change can apply either to the parent paying the child support, or to a change in the child’s needs, activities, education, etc. that requires such a modification. For example, if a parent loses his or her job, suffers a disability, or experiences a significant reduction in income, this may provide grounds for a child support modification. It is important to note, however, that the courts do not grant reductions in child support payments to parents who are voluntarily unemployed or underemployed. As for changes in the child’s circumstances, enrollment in private school or entrance into college may provide grounds for a change in the child support arrangement. An interesting question arises when one considers the alternative: what if the parent enrolls in college? Does he or she have grounds for a reduction in child support in such a case?

One could make a strong argument that a parent who returns to school to further their education and increase their earning potential was operating in the best interests of their child. If a person decides to go back to school full-time in order to achieve their degree as expediently as possible, might they be entitled to reduce their child support payments for the period that they are enrolled in college? A New Jersey case raised this very question, with some very significant results that spell long-term implications for other New Jersey parents who may be considering a similar scenario.

In the case of Zavaglia v. Bray, Anthony Zavaglia and Jacqueline Bray had a son together in 2008. In 2012, they established a child support arrangement through a consent order that required Anthony to pay $108.00 per week in child support, as well as $115.38 per week for the cost of daycare. In October of 2013, Anthony unilaterally decided to begin paying $31.00 per week, after he quit his job and enrolled in an online college program. Shortly thereafter, Jacqueline filed a motion to enforce the child support arrangement contained within the consent order. Anthony then filed a cross-motion to reduce his child support obligation to the amount that he was currently paying, due to his changed circumstances and the need to complete his college program as soon as possible to further his career.

An initial decision in Mercer County Family Court rejected Anthony’s request to reduce child support because he voluntarily left his job, thus inducing his own unemployed status. Mr. Zavaglia appealed the decision, but was denied again by the New Jersey Appellate Division. The courts cited the fact that Anthony’s current circumstances were both voluntary and temporary, which did not warrant a child support reduction. Although the decision in this case may seem counter-intuitive, New Jersey strictly enforces its child support policies for ex-spouses and unmarried parents. It is essential to understand your rights and responsibilities as it relates to child support in order to effectively advocate for yourself in these matters. Better yet, it is highly advisable to consult with a knowledgeable New Jersey family law attorney who can help you to navigate through the legal process.

To discuss your New Jersey child support matter and receive a cost-free initial consultation, contact the Bergen County law offices of Townsend, Tomaio & Newmark today at 201-397-1750.

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