As to child support, our case law and Court Rules direct that a current spouse’s income is relevant when establishing or modifying a child support award only to the extent the parent and current spouse have children of their own, in which case the parent would qualify for an “other dependent deduction” under the Child Support Guidelines. Child Support Guidelines, Pressler, Current N .J. Court Rules, Appendix 1X-A paragraph 10 to R. 5:6A (2014). The guidelines expressly provide that the income of other household members including current spouses, who are not legally responsible for supporting the child, is excluded from the calculation of the parent’s income. Child Support Guidelines, Pressler, Current N.J. Court Rules, Appendix IX-B to R. 5:6A (2014). Accordingly, unless the parent and the third party have children together, the third party’s income is completely excluded from the child support analysis. Even when the parent and the third party do have children together, the third party’s income is not to be added to the parent’s income. It is taken into account only on the “other dependent deduction”worksheet.
However, it can be argued that “above-the-guidelines” cases may lead to a different result. In cases where the parents’ combined net incomes exceed $187,200 net per year, child support is to be established based on the factors set forth in N.J.S.A. 2A:34-23(a), rather than on a strict adherence to the guidelines. Child Support Guidelines, Pressler, Current N.J. Court Rules, Appendix IX-A paragraph 20 to R. 5:6A (2014). Factor 2 of the statute directs us to consider the standard of living and economic circumstances of each parent. Factor 3 directs us to consider all sources of income and assets of each parent. These are similar to the Newburgh factors that lead to examining the income and assets of a third-party spouse or cohabitant.
“Where it appears the standard of living of an ex-wife may have changed due to the income of her new spouse, his income should be considered in determining whether modification of the ex-husband’s level of child support was proper.” Ribner v. Ribner, 290 N.J. Super. 66 (App. Div. 1996).
Ribner was overruled to the extent that it mandates an inclusion of the income of a current spouse in calculating a parent’s income under the Guidelines. However, the exclusion of the current spouse’s income does not eliminate the opportunity to disregard the new guidelines if an injustice would result in a particular case. “The court may consider other factors that could, in a particular case, cause the child support guidelines to be inapplicable or require an adjustment to the guidelines-based award. In all cases, the decision to deviate from the guidelines shall be based on the best interests of the child.” Child Support Guidelines, Pressler, Current N.J. Court Rules, Appendix IX-A paragraph 21 to R. 5:6A (2014).
In sum, in a non-guidelines-based award (i.e., where the parties’ incomes exceed the threshold amount under the guidelines), a current spouse’s income may become relevant to the extent it affects the parent’s standard of living and economic circumstances, from which a child should benefit.
As to alimony, cohabitation is the most common situation in which a third party’s income becomes relevant in the context of alimony. Pursuant to the leading case on cohabitation in New Jersey, Konzelman v. Konzelman, 158 N.J. 185 (1999), a spouse’s cohabitation may lead to a reduction or termination of alimony if the relationship reduces the needs of the dependent former spouse. A Court cannot determine the impact of the cohabitation on the former spouse’s needs without some amount of discovery of the cohabitant’s financial background, such as his or her income and his or her own expenses. For example, if a multi-millionaire sells his mansion and moves in with the dependent former spouse, that will have a different economic impact than if a teacher earning $60,000 per year spends only weekends at the dependent former spouse’s home while continuing to maintain his or her own apartment.