As a general matter, New Jersey parents must pay child support until the emancipation of a child. Emancipation is a term that describes the occurrence of an event wherein a child has moved beyond the “sphere of influence” of his or her parents. In other words, emancipation is the act by which a parent relinquishes the right to custody. As a result, the parent is relieved of the duty to support that child.
There are several events that will be an automatic emancipating event:
There are other events that could lead to emancipation, but do not necessarily act as automatic emancipating events:
The short answer is that it will always depend on the specific facts and circumstances of each child’s situation. In New Jersey, there is no bright-line rule as to what age emancipation occurs. That being said, a rebuttable presumption exists against emancipation prior to the attainment of the age of majority. The age of age majority in New Jersey is 18 years old. Attainment of age 18 does establish a prima facie, but not conclusive, proof of emancipation. Entry into secondary schooling is the most common way to rebut that proof of emancipation. However, it is not the only way to do so. The question will always come down to what is in the best interests of the child and has that child moved beyond his or her parent’s influence to the point that the duty to continue supporting that child should terminate.
Regardless of the facts and circumstances of your child’s situation, it is always best to consult an attorney to go over those specific facts and circumstances. This is because emancipation in New Jersey is an area where each case must be weighed on its own merits, taking into consideration what is in the best interests of that child.
It is also imperative to keep in mind that even if there is an automatic emancipating event, or an agreement between the parties that a child is emancipated, a Court Order is still required to effectuate the emancipation. Likewise, the Court Order ensures that child support arrears do not continue to accrue beyond the emancipation date.
For most children, emancipation will occur on or around their graduation from college, trade/vocational school or the like. However, there is also the possibility that a child may never be emancipated from their parents. In these circumstances, such as a disability, the child is financially dependent on his/her parents for their entire lives.
Please keep in mind that the recently enacted Child Support statute, N.J.S.A. § 2A:17-56.67 to 56.73 (2017), is not an Emancipation Statute. A common misunderstanding, among parties and practitioners alike, is that this relatively new statute terminates child support when a child reaches the age of 19. Or, if a parent requests and the court grants permission for the obligation to remain administered until the child reaches the age of 23. This statute only addresses child support administered through the New Jersey Probation Division. It does not end child support altogether. Rather, it merely converts it to a direct pay obligation. An emancipation determination is still required in order for a child to be deemed emancipated.
Emancipation in New Jersey can be complex. So, please contact us if you have any questions about this blog or other family law matters.