By Fredrick P. Niemann, Esq. of Hanlon Niemann & Wright, a Freehold, NJ Probate Estate Administration Attorney

Under N.J.S.A. 2A:17-56.23b (commonly known as the child support judgement lien statute) a lien exists against a beneficiary’s inheritance for the purpose of satisfying a judgment against that beneficiary for unpaid child support. The statute explicitly places the burden of enforcing such liens on the estate’s executors or administrators. But what about trusts and other non probate transfers (i.e. transfer-on-death arrangements), what is the impact of this statute on those non-inclusive transfers?

Understanding the Child Support Judgment in Question

The statute provides that “A judgement for child support docketed with the Clerk of the Superior Court shall be a lien against the net proceeds of any inheritance.” The term “net proceeds” is defined to mean any amount of money, in excess of $2,000 payable to the beneficiary after attorney fees and such other enumerated fees and costs.

The statute is vague and imprecise. It does not define “beneficiary” except to state that the term shall not include a partnership, corporation, limited liability partnership, financial institution, government entity or minor child. So to me that means a beneficiary is someone who qualifies under the common law definition. An “agent” – the party responsible for making the distribution – is defined to include the executor or administrator of the decedent’s estate, an arbitrator, or any other person who entity if such person or entity is responsible for the distribution of net proceeds to beneficiary. This would include any court or real estate representative.

Prior to any distribution, the beneficiary must provide the attorney or agent with a certification that includes the beneficiary’s full name, mailing address, date of birth and social security number. Second, the attorney or agent must initiate a search of child support judgments through a private search company to determine whether the beneficiary is a child support judgment debtor. If the search comes back “clear”, the inheritance may be paid to the beneficiary immediately. If the search comes back “with judgments,” the attorney or agent that initiated the search must contact the Probation Division of the Superior Court to arrange for the satisfaction of the child support judgment.

In the case of a judgment, the attorney or agent is obligated to notify the beneficiary of the intent to satisfy the existing judgment from all or a portion of the beneficiary’s inheritance. Only after receiving a warrant of satisfaction for the child support judgement may the attorney or agent distribution any remaining amount to the beneficiary. Furthermore, if the inheritance is less than the amount of the child support judgment, the entire amount of the net proceeds must be paid to the Probation Division as partial satisfaction of the judgement.

Importantly, the attorney or agent will not be liable for relying on false information provided by the beneficiary in his or her initial certification. This protection is further incentive for the attorney or agent to require the beneficiary or a creditor of the beneficiary for satisfying the judgment of child support.

To discuss your NJ Probate Estate matter, please contact Fredrick P. Niemann, Esq. toll-free at (855) 376-5291 or email him at fniemann@hnlawfirm.com.  Please ask us about our video conferencing consultations if you are unable to come to our office.