Many divorcing or divorced parents ask whether they will have to pay for the cost of their child’s car insurance once their child reaches driving age. This is always a difficult question to answer because New Jersey law does not provide a definitive answer to the car insurance question. We were provided with at least some clarification on this issue in the recent case of Fichter v. Fichter, which was decided by Judge Jones in Ocean County on October 21, 2015.
In the Fichters’ divorce settlement agreement, they agreed that in addition to Mr. Fichter paying child support to Ms. Fichter, they would also each contribute to the cost of car insurance for their son (who was driving age at the time). However, the parties did not address whether they would contribute to the cost of car insurance for their daughter once she reached driving age. Once their daughter reached driving age, the parties found themselves in a quandary, as the child support guidelines are not clear on whether the cost of a child’s car insurance is included in the calculation of child support or whether it is an “add-on” expense that the court can order the parties to pay in certain circumstances.
Judge Jones found that in some circumstances it may be appropriate to deviate from the child support guidelines and require each parent to contribute to the cost of car insurance for a newly licensed driver. This would require the court to look at the family’s economic circumstances to determine if such a deviation is economically feasible. The court noted that the importance of car insurance should not be overlooked. After all, car insurance not only protects the health, safety and welfare of the teenage driver, but also protects third parties. Furthermore, New Jersey law requires a driver to carry a minimum amount of insurance.
The takeaway: There is still no absolute requirement that a parent contribute to the cost of a child’s car insurance. However, given the importance of car insurance, contribution will be ordered if it would be fair in light of the totality of the circumstances. The court will look to the reasonableness and affordability of the insurance premiums and the economic circumstances of the parties. The court is also able to fashion a fair division of this cost. While the Fichters were ordered to divide the cost of their daughter’s car insurance on a 50/50 basis, courts can also order parties to divide the cost of a child’s car insurance on an unequal basis.
Amy L. Rokuson focuses her practice on matrimonial law, including divorce, child custody, parenting time, alimony, child support, domestic violence issues and same-sex divorce and custody matters. Her practice is located in Obermayer’s Cherry Hill office. She can be reached at 856-857-1435 or at Amy.Rokuson@obermayer.com.