The New Jersey family court's policy on the suspension of child support payments as a result of incarceration is defined by two seminal cases: Halliwell v. Halliwell (1999) and Kuron v. Hamilton (2000). In Halliwell, the defendant was granted a suspension of child support payments for the duration of his incarceration, although arrears would continue to accrue. In this case, the defendant was paying $75 a week in child support, an amount which he had no ability to pay during his incarceration since he had no other sources of income. While the defendant was arguably “at fault” for his change of circumstances, the Appellate Division ruled that there was simply no way for him to fulfill his support obligations while he was incarcerated. Any motions for support modifications after the incarceration, however, would be deferred until the defendant was no longer incarcerated.
The circumstances were quite different in Kuron, where the defendant was an attorney who earned approximately $135,000 per year, and worked as an administrator for a trucking company. He was disbarred from practicing law after misappropriating $500,000 of a client's funds, although he was not fired from his job at the trucking company. It was, however, expected that the defendant would be convicted for the misappropriation of funds, which would likely result in a lengthy prison sentence. The defendant filed for a suspension of his support obligations based on these circumstances, but the court rejected the request because he was still earning an income of $90,000 per year from the trucking company. They did lower the overall alimony and child support amount based on other necessary expenses, but Kuron pointed out that incarceration should not be automatic grounds for the modification of child support.
Another precedent was established in 2014 with the Ocean County Superior Court's ruling in L.A. v. M.A. This unique and tragic case involved a defendant whose incarceration stemmed from criminal acts against his own daughter, including aggravated sexual assault. These acts was acknowledged as far back as 2010 in the parents' divorce agreement, since charges were still pending at that point. Once he was incarcerated, the defendant sought to terminate his child support obligations, but the judge ruled his application as being inequitable and unjust. He based his decision on the fact that the child in question was the victim of the crime which resulted in the defendant's incarceration. The court also pointed out the marital settlement agreement, which agreed on the accrual of arrears, but no enforcement during the period of incarceration. Based on both factors, the judge found that child support could not be terminated, although heavier reliance was placed on the supported child being the obligor's victim. As you can see, child support modifications have to be viewed on a case-by-case basis, even for seemingly obvious circumstances such as incarceration. For more information on suspending or terminating child support in New Jersey, please speak with the family law attorneys of Villani & DeLuca, P.C.