This article originally appeared on JDSupra Business Advisor by Justine Abrams on June 21st, 2016.
Parties to a divorce frequently feel that they are biting off more than they can chew. The reality often is that the two parties living separate lives cannot live as economically secure as they did when they were together. Nonetheless, they often have financial obligations to one another following their divorce, and they have to either fulfill these obligations or ask a Court to change them. Child support is a particularly important post-divorce obligation, and a recent child support case in Italy serves as a good teachable moment.
In 2002, Nicola Toso, a pizza chef who owned his own pizzeria in Padua, Italy, was divorced from his ex-wife pursuant to a divorce decree entered in his home country. In the marital settlement agreement, he agreed to pay 300 euros per month in child support. At the time of the divorce, Toso did not anticipate the 2008 global financial crisis – much less that it would cripple his financial world, resulting in his inability to meet his monthly support obligation. Shortly after the recession hit, Toso offered to pay child support with 300 euros worth of pizza instead of cash. Apparently, the offer didn’t satisfy Toso’s ex-wife’s appetite, because she filed a criminal complaint against him in one of Italy’s criminal courts for non-payment of child support. Around the same time, Toso was forced to shut down his pizzeria.
The Italian judge ruled that Toso committed no crime. She reasoned that, although Toso had suffered financial distress due to the global financial crisis, he nonetheless fulfilled all other custody obligations, and paying child support in the form of pizza was the best he could offer given his dire circumstances.
So would pizza cut it in New Jersey? Specifically, can a party obligated to pay child support satisfy that obligation by a payment made with goods or services instead of money if he or she is experiencing financial hardship like Toso? The answer in New Jersey Family Court is very likely no.
First, a key difference in the Italian court was that Toso’s ex-wife filed a criminal complaint; the question was whether Mr. Toso committed a crime for paying child support with pizza. Had Toso’s ex-wife filed a motion in family court, the Court would have likely enforced Toso’s child support obligation or ordered further discovery of the parties’ finances. In New Jersey Family Court, if Toso felt that he could not meet his child support obligation of 300 euros per month, his remedy would be to seek a reduction or termination of support, but not engage in self-help by substituting money with pizza.
In New Jersey, child support is treated as a fundamental right belonging to the child, and the payment of child support is treated as inherently within the child’s best interests. As such, a New Jersey Family Court would frown upon Mr. Toso’s pizza delivery. If you feel as though you have experienced a substantial change in circumstances warranting an increase or decrease in child support, or that your child’s needs have increased or decreased, schedule a consultation with one of our New Jersey Family Law Attorneys to explore your options.