Legal Perspectives on Gifted Children’s Child Support in New Jersey
Recent New Jersey Court Rulings Address the Financial Support Considerations for Nurturing the Talents of Gifted Children in West Orange, Montclair, Ridgewood, Franklin Lakes, and Northern New Jersey
Every parent wants to believe that their child is gifted in some way. Whether reading at an early age or scoring goals on the soccer field, every child is a star in their parent’s eyes. But some children go above, and beyond the standard abilities one would expect from someone their age. Talent higher than expected can be seen in the arts, academics, or sports. Research has shown that up to 6% of our country’s population is comprised of gifted children. Allowing a child to pursue their talent can be expensive. The New Jersey courts recently ruled regarding additional child support for gifted children.
How do a Child’s Special Talents Affect NJ Child Support Payments?
Most children participate in some extra-curricular activity. Child support guidelines indicate that the costs associated with those activities fall under the entertainment category. This is because they are not a part of the child’s basic needs, such as food, housing, clothing, etc. When a child shows giftedness or an ability far superior to their peers, additional funds may be needed to supply their continued growth and participation in that activity. A court can award extra support payments to cover the augmented costs when regular support payments are insufficient to help with the increased expense of pursuing the child’s talents.
Gifted Children Defined by the National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC)
According to the National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC), gifted children demonstrate advanced abilities in one or more areas than their peers. Gifted children excel in their abilities to problem-solve, reason, judge, and develop new skills. They require special coaching or education services. The definition of “gifted” varies and is expressed in broad terms. Schools determine eligibility based on their criteria and the services that the schools in their community can offer. Parents of gifted children may need to seek activities outside the school’s framework to meet the child’s needs.
The six areas of giftedness are intellectual, academic, creative, leadership, talent in sports, and visual/performing arts. Frequently, tests are used to identify the child’s area of giftedness since merely comparing them to their peers isn’t a proper way to gauge their capabilities. Achievement tests such as the ACT or the Woodcock-Johnson Tests of Achievement can be used to identify academically gifted students. They are expensive tests but provide sound results that can be used to determine the child’s strengths, learning style, weaknesses, and educational needs. Intelligence Quotient (IQ) tests such as the Stanford-Binet or the WISC (Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children) are also often applied.
Private lessons are usually required when it comes to a child who is musically or artistically gifted. A student playing a recorder in their fifth-grade music class with skill differs from a first grader playing Chopin’s Waltz in A Minor. Competitive dancers attend several courses weekly, and some pay choreographers to develop winning dance numbers. Artists such as painters and sculptors create complex pieces with deep emotion and meaning. Private teachers can challenge them to unlimited success.
Academically, gifted children are curious and enjoy problem-solving. They have excellent memories and relish learning as much as they can about their topics of interest. Gifted children are not necessarily great at everything. A gift for math sometimes does not translate into a gift for writing, but most academically gifted children demonstrate advanced thinking and analytical skills regardless of their specialty.
Sports phenoms such as Jaylin Fleming, a 10-year-old basketball player from San Antonio, Texas, play against boys older and taller than him and win. Ben Lederman, a 12-year-old California native, is the first American ever accepted to FC Barcelona’s youth soccer academy in La Masia. Andrew Koff began bowling competitively at the age of six. He went on to become one of the country’s top youth bowlers.
Judicial Decision on Extracurricular Activities and Child Support in NJ
This case, P.S. v. J.S., was regarding additional child support to support a gifted child’s needs. The father was the plaintiff, and the mother was the defendant. She asked for more support as their daughter had demonstrated giftedness in theater and wanted to pursue acting. The mother had physical custody, and the father had a balanced parenting schedule. The judge decided that extracurricular activities are usually a part of the child support amount. Still, the guidelines allow for changes for several reasons, one of which is the case of a gifted child. The judge explained that giftedness refers to academics, music, the arts, technology, athletics, etc. The court decided that when a child is gifted, additional money can be added to the child support payment when it is economically reasonable based on the parent’s income. The parents were each ordered to contribute $250 annually toward the child’s pursuit of acting.
Financial Impact on Parents When a Child Is Acknowledged for Exceptional Talent
A range of extra expenses can arise with a gifted child, especially if the public school system is low on different academic, sports, or arts programs. Uniforms, equipment, and materials are commonly needed. Private lessons, tutors, coaches, mentors, instruments, transportation, tournament, or contest fees are also required. Private organizations require membership fees from baseball leagues to bowling leagues. Chess, robotics, and space clubs are examples outside the realm of sports. Summer camps focused on a particular interest or talent can run as high as $2,000 per week.
Factors Considered by NJ Family Courts on a Case-by-Case Basis
To begin, the child must be recognized as gifted. There is no standard upon which giftedness is determined, so it must be done on a case-by-case basis. In the case of P.S. v. J.S., the judge was overwhelmed by the child’s “inherently extraordinary drive, desire, focus, and commitment to act and perform on stage at her young age in the first place.” The judge, in this case, was also impressed with her drive, determination, and genuine love that the child seems to have for acting. The judge made a difference between a child showing interest in or liking a particular activity and one showing giftedness in that area.
Next, the request for additional support must be stipulated in detail as to the expenditures and why they are necessary. In this case, expenses would include headshots, acting lessons, and possibly singing or dance lessons, transportation, application fees, and a tutor to provide extra help in case she missed classes. Needless to say, $500 annually will not cover everything, but it is certainly helpful.
There is no question that supporting a gifted child and their passions is expensive. Judges also have to make their decisions based on the economic standing of the family in question. It would be unfair to oblige a parent earning minimum wage to pay additional child support for a gifted program.
Best Interests as a Framework for Gifted Child Support
New Jersey’s family law system is interested in making decisions about children based on the best interests factor, a list of the priorities to be kept in mind when making decisions regarding custody and support. Of the 14 points listed, there are three that can be associated with a gifted child: the parents’ ability to discuss and agree about any issues regarding the child, the child’s education, and what the child needs to be healthy and happy. Ensuring these standards are upheld gives a gifted child a much better chance of pursuing their interests and further developing their talents.
Speak to a Child Support Attorney About How to Handle a Gifted Child’s Financial Needs in Woodland Park, New Jersey
Many factors decide the amount of child support to be paid. The child’s needs and the parent’s capability to meet their obligation also come into play. A request for additional support must be well-founded and fall outside of the categories of support already present. This can be a tricky process to go through.
The family law attorneys at the Montanari Law Group are seasoned professionals with years of experience in Northern New Jersey, such as South Orange, Wyckoff, Essex Fells, Haledon, Clifton, Wayne, Woodland Park, Hackensack, Hawthorne, and Rutherford. We know your child’s needs are important and will work with you to get your gifted child’s financial support. For a free initial consultation, call us today at (973) 233-4396 or toll-free at (888) 877-7985 to discuss your situation. You can also contact us online.