In the unpublished case P.S. v. J.S. (FM-15-1581-08, Ocean County), Judge Jones examines the issue of what comprises a “gifted child” under the child support guidelines.  The 13-year-old daughter, Julie (a pseudonym) has shown an interest and aptitude in theater and public performance.  Julie has career aspirations to be a singer or writer.  She has been trying out and practicing for community theater roles and desires to spend much of her free time on this endeavor.  The question between the parents is: do Julie’s acting activities constitute extra-curricular activity or is it built into the child support calculation?

The child support guidelines include entertainment in its calculations.  But further:

As noted, Comment 8 to Appendix IX-A of the Child Support Guidelines deals generally with entertainment expenses. Comment 9(d) of the very same Guidelines, however, expressly provides that the Court may in fact add supplemental funds to guideline-level support to help defray expenses for the development and special needs of a “gifted” child. Under the guidelines, if a court deems a child to be “gifted” regarding a particular field or discipline , then it may be financially fair, equitable and appropriate for a court, upon application of a parent, to add a reasonable additional earmarked stipend
onto both parents’ basic support obligation to help defray the costs of developing, enhancing and encouraging growth of the child’s giftedness in a specific area.

The court ruled:

  1. Generally, a non-custodial parent’s payment of guideline-level child support covers contribution to the cost of a child’s extracurricular activities. The Guidelines, however, also explicitly permit a court to deviate from same and adjust support to include additional amounts for different reasons, including when a child is considered “gifted” in a particular field or discipline;
  2. The Child Support Guidelines do not provide litigants, attorneys or the courts with any specific guidance on how to determine giftedness, for child support purposes, or what does or does not constitute giftedness in relation to a particular discipline or field. Therefore, a court must use reason to interpret and apply the term on a fact-sensitive, case-by-case basis, using practical sense and logic under the particular circumstances presented;
  3. A child’s giftedness logically may relate to a child’s aptitude, abilities and/or achievements in either (A) academics; (B) athletics; (C) technology, or (D) the arts, although other categories and areas of focus may exist as well;
  4. Even if a court finds that a child is gifted, a stipend of additional earmarked funds to support of a child’s development of such giftedness must be economically reasonable, with significant reference to each parent’s financial situation and actual ability to pay. No matter how gifted a child may be, no parent should be compelled to contribute a greater sum than he or she can reasonably afford.

Clear as mud, right?  Many issues in family court are really in the eyes of the beholder — the judge.  Remove the unknown outcome by mediating your dispute and agreeing on what works for you.