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Child Emancipation

There is often a misperception and misunderstanding that once a child reaches the age of 18, he or she is emancipated and the parents are no longer financially responsible. That is true in many States, but not in New Jersey.   Instead, in New Jersey, the law takes a minority view and the Courts must look to whether or not there is evidence that the child has “moved beyond the sphere of influence of his or her parents.”[i]

In the child support context, emancipation is defined as the time when a child is expected to be self-supporting and the parent is relieved of his or her duty to support the child.[ii]

There is no fixed time when a child is deemed emancipated.[iii]

Children of divorced parents have the right “to be supported at least according to the standard of living to which they had grown accustomed prior to the separation of their parents.” A child’s right to support is enforceable not only at the insistence of the custodial parent, but at the child’s insistence, as well.

The right of child support belongs to the child and not to the parent.  Parents cannot waive their obligation to pay child support upon the child’s reaching the age of 18.[iv] “It is fundamental that the right to child support belongs to the child and may not be waived by a custodial parent.”[v]

Some Examples of Emancipation:

  • A child will be emancipated when he/she has married.
  • A child who does not pursue their post high school education diligently and works full time may be emancipated.
  • A child was emancipated when he was inducted to military service.[x]
  • The Appellate division held that failure of an individual to pass his college courses, reinforced by his failure to return the next semester, virtually mandated the conclusion that he was emancipated.

On January 19, 2016, Governor Christie signed S-1046/A-2721 into law.   This act establishes the age and other conditions under which child support and/or medical support will end.  This law went into effect on February 1, 2017 and applies to all child support orders.  Where your divorce agreement is silent on the date of emancipation, when a child reaches the age of 19, a written request for the continuation of support may be required.  A failure to respond or properly complete the form may result in negative consequences such as the erroneous emancipation of a child.  It is critical to speak with an attorney before completing this paperwork.

Here is the link to the Notice and the protocol provided to attorneys. 

Every family is different; often, the issue of emancipation is a “close call.” As with all family law matters, the inquiry is extremely fact-sensitive and it is important that you consult with an attorney to discuss your case. Even if you believe the outcome of your application should be obvious, a court may not see your family’s situation the same way and the law may be different than you imagine. So much is at stake financially and emotionally, especially as a college education becomes so critical in the current economic climate. If you are involved in a dispute about whether child support should continue, you may need the assistance of an experienced attorney.

Given the complexities involved with Emancipation and Child Support, we advise you to contact one of our experienced family law attorneys at Gebhardt & Kiefer at 908-735-5161.  We handle support and family law issues throughout New Jersey. 

Helpful Links:

http://www.njchildsupport.org/assets/documents/Child%20Support%20Handbook.pdf

http://www.njchildsupport.org/Services-Programs/Custodial-Parents/Emancipation.aspx

 

[i] Keegan v. Keegan, 326 N.J. Super. 289 (App. Div. 1999).
[ii] Quinn v. Johnson, 247 N.J. Super. 572, 578 (Ch. Div. 1991).
[iii] Newburgh v. Arrigo, 88 N.J. 529, 543 (1982).
[iv] Pattetta v. Pattetta, 358 N.J. Super. 90(App. Div. 2003).
[v] Gotlib v. Gotlib, 399 N.J. Super. 295 (App. Div. 2008).
[x] Slep v. Slep, 43 N.J.Super. 538 (Ch. Div. 1957).