The New Jersey family courts are typically generous when it comes to awarding supplemental support for educational purposes. The majority of education support cases are for college and graduate school, which is understandable since most professions nowadays require some form of post-secondary education. The situation, however, isn't as clear cut for gifted programs, especially those that focus on nurturing talent, as opposed to academics. While many gifted programs continue to focus on intellectual development, services for gifted children also include artistic endeavors like painting and dance.
The degree to which an arts program is needed in a child's life has long been a source of debate among parents and educators. In fact, the current trend seems to be leaning towards cutting these programs in the public schools, even though educators generally agree that an arts education is beneficial to a child's growth and development. The question for the courts, however, is whether such an education is essential to the point where a parent should be required to contribute towards paying for it.
One of the factors that the courts examine in deciding the need for special extra-curricular activities is the concept of “giftedness”, meaning that a child possesses extraordinary aptitude or talent for a particular subject matter. If so, it could be determined that specialized programs in these areas is essential for that child's development. In short, it's basically up to a judge's discretion to determine a child's giftedness, but they do rely on a child's commitment, aptitude and achievements as the main deciding factor. For example, a parent who's asking for supplemental support for his child's acting program would need to show the child's high level of commitment to acting, as well as a history of achievements such as acting roles, reviews and awards.
However, lacking in the latter two categories is not a disqualifier for support. A child is, in all fairness, still developing their craft, so it's more important to focus on his or her enthusiasm and commitment. It's also fair to note most judges lack the level of experience and knowledge to determine technical levels of giftedness, hence their decision has to be based largely on the child's words and actions.
Once a judge believes that a child shows giftedness in a particular area, he or she must decide whether it's reasonable for the paying parent to contribute towards that expense. After all, the key component to an extra-curricular activity is the word “extra”, which means that it's not a basic need like food and clothing. While a wide array of “basic” activities like sports, music lessons and summer camp may be included in a standard child support award, children develop new skills and interests as they grow into adulthood. Judges generally agree that the fairest approach is to lean heavily towards each parent's economic circumstances, regardless of the child's aptitude. For more information on supplemental child support modifications in New Jersey, please speak with the family law attorneys of Villani & DeLuca, P.C.