By: Lauren Hagovsky, Esquire
In New Jersey it is quite common for parents who share joint legal custody of their children to also share the right to claim them as a tax exemptions on their federal and state income tax returns under a provision of their marital settlement agreement. Divorced or non-married parents typically equally split the available exemptions for children; each parent claims one child and/or they alternate claiming the exemption(s) by year. In an unreported decision, Zeitlin v. Zeitlin, decided on December 19, 2014, the court held that the family court may suspend a non-custodial parent’s right to claim a child dependency exemption when their accrued child support arrears remain unpaid at the end of the year. The court based their conclusion of the following three reasons:
- There is a logical and unequivocal relationship between the child dependency exemption and the parental child support obligation. The right to claim the exemption is intertwined with duty to pay support; therefore, accumulating substantial arrears is a breach of this relationship.
- The non-custodial parent’s accrual of significant child support arrears is a change in circumstances warranting equitable relief under Lepis v. Lepis, 83 J. 139 (1980).
- Rule 5:3-7(b) states as follows: On finding that a party has violated an alimony or child support order the court may, in addition to remedies provided by R. 1:10-3, grant any of the following remedies, either singly or in combination: (1) fixing the amount of arrearages and entering a judgment upon which interest accrues; (2) requiring payment of arrearages on a periodic basis; (3) suspension of an occupational license or driver’s license consistent with law; (4) economic sanctions; (5) participation by the party in violation of the order in an approved community service program; (6) incarceration, with or without work release; (7) issuance of a warrant to be executed upon the further violation of the judgment or order; and (8) any other appropriate equitable remedy.
The court ruled it appropriate and equitable to suspend the delinquent parent’s right to claim the child dependency exemption. In this particular case, the non-custodial parent was $10,511.00 in arrears as to his child support obligation as of December 16, 2014. The court granted plaintiff’s request to be able to claim both of the parties’ children on her tax returns unless and until further ordered.