Courts Explore Emancipation Factors In Child Support Cases

older kids and divorceCourts in New Jersey are frequently asked to modify, recalculate and terminate child support obligations for various reasons. In cases of emancipation of a child, the courts have routinely found that retroactive modification of child support is permitted, and may sometimes result in a credit or refund to the parent paying the support. In one recent case ruling, the Appellate Division discussed some of the factors that a court must consider in determining whether a child is emancipated.

In Pagiaro vDeBoer, the appellate court was asked to reduce a New Jersey father’s child support arrears, because the father claimed that the child was on his own, not living with his mother and therefore, no longer in need of his support. The case centered around a now 25-year-old man, who lived primarily with his grandparents in Florida. As far back as 2005, the father has asked the court to vacate the child support and emancipate his son. After several jurisdictional hurdles, the case was finally heard by the family court in 2013. At that point, the child, Nathaniel, had written to the judge and supplied college transcripts that were unclear, but did indicate that Nathaniel had indeed attended some college.

Based upon the lack of clear information sent to the court, the judge emancipated Nathaniel, in its discretion, as of June 30 of 2008, or when he would have theoretically ended his senior year in high school. As a result, the court recalculated the father’s arrears and gave him a credit of $26,429. However, he owed $45,335 in arrears, leaving a balance owed in child support of $18,906. The father appealed this order, indicating that Nathaniel should have been seen as emancipated earlier than 2008. He stated that he was actually owed $54,000 in child support because Nathaniel lived with his grandparents and not his mother, since he was in the first grade.

The appellate division disagreed with the father and stated that the criteria for emancipation of a child does not include that child going to live with grandparents; rather, emancipation occurs when the child is “beyond the sphere of influence and responsibility exercised by a parent and obtains an independent status of his or her own.”

The appellate court further stated that the lower court judge, at the 2013 hearing “was presented with records of Nathaniel’s college attendance, as well as correspondence from Nathaniel” and that the judge also had the benefit of hearing testimony from the parties. Based upon that evidence and the uncertainty of when Nathaniel actually attended college, the appellate court affirmed the trial court’s decision to emancipate Nathaniel as of 2008, and not back to when he began living with his grandparents, in the first grade.

Do you have questions about child emancipation and how emancipation affects your child support order? Our attorneys can help. Please contact us to schedule your initial confidential attorney consultation.