I am the wife of a non custodial parent living in New Jersey. My goal is to find a way to make changes to the family court system regarding the rights of Non Custodial Parents. However, Im finding that a change in the family court system is a huge undertaking and more like minded individuals need to start speaking out.
Since Child Support seems to be the center of most controversy, I will be discussing this, but I hope that those reading understand that Child Support issues should not be the only focus point with regards to changing the system.
Ill start with a pet peeve of mine. After my husband and I were married and his mail started arriving at our home I got the surprise of my life one evening when he received mail from the State of New Jersey, Department of Probation.
Is my husband a criminal? In four years of asking the same question and looking for information I have not been able to find out why child support payments are handled by a department with a title that is most commonly associated with criminals. My husband has received letters from the Department of Family and Community Development regarding reviews of his child support obligation, so obviously there is another department out there with knowledge of family laws and the child support system, yet this state, along with many others across the country, chooses to associate non custodial parents with criminals.
When financial hardship hits the NCP, they can file for a modification of Child Support due to a substancial change in finances; however that comes at a cost. Apparently in this state it is totally unacceptable for a NCP to be unable to provide the same level of support (or more) for his children. Instead the solution is often bankruptcy, homelessness, jail time and drivers license suspension, all for the NCP just as long as child support is still paid.
The government offers various types of assistance programs for the financial needy, however most NCPs dont qualify because Child Support obligations are not factored into expenses nor are NCPs allowed to list their children as dependents. Refinancing various debts is impossible too because the child support obligation is considered when figuring the income to debt ratio.
When financial hardship hits the CP, they can also file for a modification of Child Support due to a substancial change in finances. The result is usually that the NCP plus any other adult members of the NCP household will help ease the burden of the CP.
The same financial assistance programs are available to a CP and if they choose to apply for assistance, the Child Support they receive is not required to be reported and all children can be listed. If the CP chooses to apply for loans, refinancing, etc., the paperwork includes a section for additional income received. This can be used by a Custodial Parent to list Child Support Payments they receive as additional income.
Heres what happened when we could not pay our heating bill and I looked into energy assistance. As instructed, I brought all our information to the aid office. We were not eligible for any assistance because my husbands gross salary was too high; child support payments are not recognized and my husband was told that he does not have children.
At the aid office, there was a misunderstanding and I was told that as the mother of a minor child, I did not have to list the child support payments I received. I do not have a minor child and I have never received Child Support Payments but this comment got my full attention. I took it further and, as I was told
if my husband and I were divorced and we had 3 children together; if I was the custodial parent and he was the non custodial parent; and if we made the same gross salary and our total household incomes were exactly the same, I would receive aid, because I would not have to report what I receive in Child Support payments and I had 3 children. My husband would NOT be eligible, because even though his gross salary and household income was exactly the same as mine, HE DID NOT HAVE CHILDREN.
What a slap in the face.
In addition, my husband has always been paid on a week behind basis. Apparently because of this the first item on his credit report showing +120 days past due is the very first Child Support payment amount. Three years ago he received a credit back from the Probation Department due to overpayment of Child Support, yet the +120 days past due is still sitting on his report. Recently we found out that my husband is actually 2 weeks AHEAD in his child support payments, yet the +120 days past due is still on his report. Numerous attempts have been made to the 3 reporting companies and the Probation Department itself to have this corrected. We have recently learned that the only way Probation will ALLOW (like my husband has no right to make the request) this to be corrected is by order of the court. Meaning my husband has to spend money to correct THEIR mistake.
My husband averages 113 overnights a year with his children; 50 of which occur when he has the children for the entire summer. He takes his kids for their annual physicals and eye exams plus one dentist appointment each year. This is because when these important items were left up to the Custodial Parent, the children were anywhere from 2-20 months past due for various exams. He is more involved with the schools than the Custodial Parent. Yet his status is still that of a non-parent.
Questions or concerns presented by the non custodial parent usually come under fire. If the non custodial parent continues in their pursuit of making sure the well being of the children come first but does not have the custodial parents backing that is considered undermining the concerns and authority of the custodial parent. For instance, above I mentioned how past due for various exams the kids were. When the custodial parent was asked for information so the non custodial parent could take the kids to the needed exams, he was ignored and the NCP was forced to proceed as best he could. This meant making appointments with the last known doctor or a doctor with the first availability.
Fast forward after 4 years of the NCP keeping his kids necessary medical exams current and informing the CP of each step involved (notification that exams are due soon, notification that the appointment was scheduled and providing the date and time, reminding the CP of the scheduled appointment, asking the CP to write necessary notes to the schools for early release and finally informing the CP of all that transpired during any exams); instead of a thank you, or even showing up to the exams, it has been nothing but a battle. In spite of providing almost minute to minute detail to the CP, the NCP comes under fire with statements to the contrary and an insinuation that his involvement with such issues is a problem. One month after the last exam for this year was complete the CP has told the NCP that he should no longer be involved with the well being of his kids and she will take over.
It took 4 years for the CP to finally step up but only after causing major confusion, beginning with not knowing the difference between an optician and ophthalmologist and ending with not knowing that the pediatrician only authorizes prescriptions based on actual dosages, not on UNTOLD special requests. Yet the NCP is considered the non-parent?
Did you know that my husband cannot simply introduce himself to teachers, doctors or the like as his childrens father? Doing so causes confusion. In other words, by simply stating he is his childrens father he is making teachers, doctors or the like believe that he is just as equally a parent as the custodial parent. However it is perfectly acceptable to confuse the spouse of the CP as the father of these children.
Here is what happens most years. In August an introduction letter is sent by my husband, to the schools, requesting information about classroom assignments, back to school night and future copies of progress reports/report cards. In this letter the NCP is sure to point out that by law he is titled the non custodial parent. He now sends along a copy of NJ Statute 9:2-4.2. At back to school night he introduces himself to the teachers and provides self addressed stamped envelops for their use in mailing out progress reports/report cards.
Our use of the statute became necessary because, by stating that my husband is the non custodial parent, the schools felt they might be stepping on the legal rights of the custodial parent by giving him information that all parents have a right to, unless a court order is provided stating otherwise. The postage paid envelops became necessary because the schools could not afford to send a copy of report cards to the non custodial parent, nor could they send two copies home with the children; one for each parent. To date my husband has not been charged a copying fee, but Im sure that request is not far behind.
My husband is well known in his kids schools, he attends functions and volunteers often and most of the teachers now recognize that the non custodial parent is only interested in making sure his children are working to their full potential. Teachers and staff know him by name, however they will not address any issues with him, until critical point is reached and the custodial parent has been less than helpful or non-responsive.
Some years the teachers are pretty quick to work with my husband, other years they are not, but no matter what, every August the NCP once again becomes a non-parent in the eyes of the school and the vicious cycle begins again.
Why does the child need to be on the verge of failing before considering that another parent does exist that may actually address the issues and help find solutions? Why is a child kept from the special classes she needs for months simply because the school will not recognize another parent exists? When the custodial parent informed that particular school that she felt her child would always be a C-D student and no further discussions were needed, they finally acknowledged the NCP. Three years later that C-D student is now only in one special class but her grades are mostly A-B with a few Cs every so often. Yet, my husbands status is still that of a non-parent.
In addition we have recently found out that even if the Custodial Parent is removed from the picture in any way, be it their decision to run off to a tropical island, incarceration or found unfit or if they are deceased, the Non Custodial Parent still runs the risk of not gaining custody of their children. A spouse of the Custodial Parent or family members of a Custodial Parent would be considered first. As explained, depending on the circumstances, the Non Custodial Parent can go to court and fight such a decision and they usually win.
Why should the non custodial PARENT have to fight for custody of THEIR children even after the custodial parent is no longer involved?
Something in this system needs to change. I truly believe there would be a lot less Child Support issues if the non custodial parents were given more of an opportunity to be a parent to their children. The way the system is set up now, non custodial parents are basically being told that the word parent is only a formality when calculating Child Support. At any other time they should only be considered a criminal that must report their whereabouts to Probation at all times. They are not allowed opinions, they are not allowed to call themselves parents and above all else they are not allowed to take such trivial matters to court, that is just harassing the custodial parent.
Cape May Court House, New Jersey