Child Support for Multiple Families

Harte v. Hand, 433 N.J. Super. 457 (App. Div. 2013).  Today’s opinion, by Judge Koblitz, in these consolidated cases addresses the circumstance in which a father has child support obligations to multiple families and how those child support obligations should be calculated.  Defendant has three children, each of whom has a different mother.  His oldest child, a son, lives with him and his current wife.  Another child lives with his former wife, plaintiff T.B., and the third child lives with defendant’s former wife, plaintiff Harte.

A Family Part judge entered two separate child support orders.  Each of those orders treated defendant as though “the only other child defendant supported was the oldest son living with him.”  Defendant appealed.  Although “[a]ppellate courts afford particular deference to the Family Part because of its ‘special jurisdiction and expertise’ in family matters,’ the Appellate Division here reversed.  “The [Child Support] Guidelines require the court to consider multiple family obligations to obtain an equitable resolution that does not favor any family.”  And, “[a] later-born child should not be penalized by reducing the obligor’s available income by the prior child support obligation.”  Judge Koblitz suggested, but did not mandate, a mechanism by which T.B. and Harte are each first treated as the “prior” obligation for purposes of the support calculation, then each is treated as the later obligation, and then the calculations are averaged.  The panel remanded for further proceedings resulting in the calculation of equitable amounts of support for both families.

The case also involved brief discussion of two other issues.  First, Judge Koblitz found that an expert produced by defendant had offered nothing more than a net opinion.  Second, the panel affirmed, under the abuse of discretion standard, a $600 attorneys’ fee award to Harte.