Is a Non-Custodial Parent Responsible for Contributing to a Teen Driver’s Car Insurance Payments on
New Jersey Judge Says Yes!
In a recent decision, a New Jersey Family Court Judge considered whether car insurance payments for a teen driver are included in child support, or if they constitute an additional expense which must be allocated separately between the parents. The case of Fichter-v- Fichter was decided by Judge Jones of Ocean County. The case involved parents of a 17 year old son and 13 year old daughter. Both children lived primarily with their mother. When they divorced, the parties agreed that the Husband would pay child support of $303 per week pursuant to the Child Support Guidelines. They also agreed that they would share in the cost of their son’s automobile insurance, but their Settlement Agreement did not address payment of car insurance for their daughter, instead deferring the issue to a “future relevant time.”
The father’s child support obligation was reduced to $213 per week when the son became emancipated. By that time the daughter had become a licensed driver. The mother then filed an application with the Court wherein she sought contribution from the father to the daughter’s $854 annual automobile insurance payment, to be paid in addition to his child support obligation.
In analyzing the issue presented, Judge Jones turned to the New Jersey Child Support
Guidelines, specifically Comment 8 which refers to consideration of: “All costs involved with owning or leasing an automobile including monthly installments toward principal cost, finance charges (interest), lease payments, gas and motor oil, insurance, maintenance and repairs.”
Comment 8 also states that “the net outlay (purchase price minus the trade-in value) for the purchase of a vehicle for the child is not included in the guidelines, nor are expenses associated with a motor vehicle purchased or leased for the intended primary use of the child subject to the support order.” Judge Jones also looked at Comment 21 to the New Jersey Child Support Guidelines which states that “a motor vehicle purchased or leased for the intended primary use of a child subject to the support order” may be a factor warranting a support adjustment to the child support award.
Judge Jones reasoned that it does not make sense to for the cost of purchasing a car to be an appropriate add-on to child support but not the cost of insuring the car. Notwithstanding, because Comment 8 includes the word “insurance” a literal reading of the Guidelines would lead to the conclusion that car insurance for a teen driver is not an appropriate add-on to child support because the cost of same is already contemplated in the Guidelines. Faced with this ambiguity in the Guidelines, Judge Jones reasoned that automobile insurance is necessary to protect both the teen driver’s and the public’s health and safety, and that Insurance for a teenage driver may be unaffordable to many custodial parents without contribution from the other parent. Thus, Judge Jones ruled that he could require the father to make an additional contribution to the daughter’s car insurance payments on top of his child support obligation.
However, Judge Jones noted that he considered the best interests of the child as well as the reasonability of the cost of insuring the daughter’s car in arriving at his decision. Thus it is possible that in future cases with different factual scenarios, the Court may not reach the same result.
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