Child support does not depend upon visitation. In fact, our child support lawyers have had clients that have never even met the child that they are supporting. However, visitation or “parenting time” does have an impact on child support. The Child Support Guidelines provide that visitation is a level of parental participation in child-rearing that is less than the substantial equivalent of two or more overnights with the child each week (approximately 28% of overnights excluding vacations and holidays). Oddly enough, overnight means the majority of a 24-hour day (i.e. more than 12 hours) so thus, it does not really require that the child sleep over. Appendix IX-A to R. 5:6A. § 14(b)(1) also defines “overnight” as “the majority of a 24-hour day (i.e. more than 12 hours).” Id.
This is important for two reasons. First, each overnight reduces the the amount of child support that the non-custodial parent has to pay. This is because the parent exercising the parenting time is the one that incurs at least some of the costs in parenting the child. If the child support did not account for this, the custodial parent would be getting paid the full amount even when the child was not with him/her. As a result, the other parent would be paying to parent the child at two places at once.
The other reason this is important is because if there are enough overnights, the court will use a different worksheet for the child support guidelines. The shared parenting worksheet may be used when (1) A parenting plan that specifies parenting times and responsibilities must be filed with or ordered by the court or (2) The PAR [Parent of Alternate Residence] has or is expected to have the child for the substantial equivalent of two or more overnights per week over a year or more (at least 28% of the time) and the PAR can show that separate living accommodations for the child are provided during such times. The shared parenting worksheet will drastically reduce the amount of child support paid to the custodial parent. Despite the the above, the decision to use the shared parenting time worksheet is left to the sole discretion of the court which makes it tough to appeal.