New Jersey Emancipation of Children
"Emancipation" changes a person's legal status from "minor child" to "adult." Unlike many other states, New Jersey has never designated a specific age at which a minor child is automatically emancipated. Instead, emancipation has been defined as occurring when a child moves beyond the parental sphere of influence. Generally speaking, this is when a child no longer lives with parents or depends upon them financially. There is a legal presumption that emancipation occurs at age 18, but the specific facts of each case may lead to a different conclusion. For example, a child who marries or becomes an active member of the armed forces might be emancipated before turning 18, while a child who continues full-time education after high school might be emancipated at an older age.
Emancipation Ends Child Support Obligations
In the family law context, the primary significance of emancipation is that it defines the ending of a parent's obligation to provide child support. Under the law prior to February 1, 2017, child support payments did not end automatically at 18, or at any other age, unless an age was specified in a court order or court-approved support agreement. If no age was specified, the parent responsible for paying support was required to file an application in court to end the payments. In some cases, applications sat in court for months, or even years. While New Jersey courts have not hesitated to make child support termination orders retroactive, often resulting in credits or refunds to paying parents, the lack of any automatic termination rules frequently led to ongoing financial uncertainty for both parents and children.
New Child Support Termination Law
A new law, effective February 1, 2017, provides that child support will terminate automatically by the time a child turns 19, unless the custodial parent files an application for an extension before the child's 19th birthday. Paying parents are relieved of the obligation to file an application unless they wish to request modification or termination before the child turns 19, or before another termination date set out in an existing order. The ultimate determination of whether or not a child is emancipated remains dependent on the specific facts of each individual case.
The highlights of the new law are as follows:
- For child support orders administered by the Probation Division, both parents will be sent two written notices of proposed termination, the first at least 180 days prior to the child's 19th birthday and the second at least 90 days prior. The second notice will not be required if the custodial parent has already filed an application for extension, or if a new termination date has already been established. To the extent feasible, additional notices of termination will also be provided to parents by text or telephone message, or by other electronic means.
- A custodial parent can seek continuation of support for a child past the age of 19 by establishing "sufficient proof," using court-approved forms and additional supporting documentation, of an acceptable reason for continuation. The request must specify a new projected future date for termination.
- Acceptable reasons for continuation are:
- The child is still in high school;
- The child is enrolled full-time in a post-secondary program;
- The child has a mental or physical disability that existed prior to the child's 19th birthday; or
- Other exceptional circumstances subject to court approval.
- A court approving a request for continuation will issue a new order with a specified prospective termination date, which must be on or before the child's 23rd birthday.
- Orders specifying unallocated child support for multiple children will not end automatically when the oldest child turns 19. Child support orders applicable to multiple children with amounts allocated per child will continue in effect minus the amount allocated to the child turning 19. In either situation, either parent can file a request for modification based on the change in status of the oldest child.
- All child support obligations end by operation of law when a child turns 23. While other forms of financial obligation may exist after a child reaches age 23, in no event will any such obligation be characterized as child support.
For additional information from the New Jersey Department of Human Services, see: Important Notice: Passage of Termination of Child Support Law.
Understanding Your Financial and Legal Obligations
Before you stop making New Jersey court-ordered or agreed upon child support payments, it is important to seek the guidance of a knowledgeable New Jersey child support attorney about your specific situation. Failure to pay New Jersey child support can result in significant penalties and possibly even jail time.
In New Jersey, the right to receive child support is the child's right—not the parent's right. If you receive support on behalf of your child, you should not necessarily accept termination of payments simply because your child has turned 18 or 19. As long as your child is in need of financial support, parents may be obligated to continue their NJ child support payments for some additional period of time prior to the child's 23 birthday.
Do you still have questions about child support and the new termination provisions? Please contact us for a free consultation with one of our knowledgeable and experienced child support attorneys.