A frequent issue arising in divorce and family law litigation in New Jersey is the issue of emancipation, which involves the question of whether or not child support to a custodial parent shall cease because the dependent child has moved “beyond the sphere of influence and responsibility exercised by a parent and obtains an independent status of his or her own.” Bishop v. Bishop, 287 NJ Super 593, 598 (Ch.Div. 1995). In the case of Newburg v. Arrigo, 88 NJ 529 (1982), emancipation was defined as “the act by which a parent relinquishes the right to custody and is relieved of the duty to support a child.”

New Jersey, unlike many states, does not deem a child automatically emancipated at the age of 18. While attaining the age of 18 does create a rebuttable presumption of emancipation, every case is unique and fact sensitive, and the Court will look to whether or not “the fundamental dependent relationship between parent and child is concluded..” Filippone v. Lee, 304 NJ Super 301, 308. (App. Div. 1997). In practice, child support will generally continue past the age of 18 so long as the child remains a full time student in a two or four year college or university, and most types of full time post-secondary training programs. Most judges will expect that the child will be pursuing a degree with reasonable diligence and is maintaining satisfactory grades. Child support may, however, be adjusted if the child is living at college and the non-custodial parent is contributing to room and board.

Under a law passed by Governor Christie in January of 2016, effective February 1, 2017, child support shall terminate at the age of 19, without order of the Court, subject to some very broad exceptions which will most likely limit the applicability of this law to most people paying or receiving child support. For example, if the parties specify in a divorce agreement that a child remains unemancipated while a full time college student, this language would control and there would not be an automatic emancipation at age 19. In addition, the Court could extend the obligation to pay child support upon the application of a parent or guardian, so long as the application is filed prior the child reaching 19 years of age. Reasons to extend child support include a child who is still enrolled in high school or other secondary educational program, or full time attendance at college. Child support may also be extended where a child has a physical or mental disability that existed prior to the child reaching the age of 19 and continued support is necessary.

A trial court decision from 2010, Van Brunt v. Van Brunt, 419 NJ Super 327, dealt with an issue which arises very frequently in emancipation disputes. In short, the child was attending college and her mother was receiving child support, but the child’s father was not provided with proof of college enrollment and report cards and as a result had no way of monitoring her academic progress or verifying whether or not the child should be emancipated. The trial court determined that a college-age child, if she wishes to remain unemancipated, must provide proof of college enrollment and performance to her parents at the start of and conclusion of every semester. In summary, the Court found that a parent who is required to pay child support or contribute to college costs has a right to ongoing verification of the child’s status in college.

The Courts in New Jersey have held that a minor who gives birth to a child of her own is not necessarily emancipated solely on that basis if she remains dependent on parental support. Filippone v. Lee, 304 NJ Super 301 (App. Div. 1997). In addition, the Court in Filippone also upheld the principle that a minor’s residence away from his parents does not, by itself, result in emancipation.

If you have an issue regarding emancipation of a child in New Jersey, or issues pertaining to child support in New Jersey, contact the law office of Jeffrey R. Brown, Esq. With offices located in East Brunswick and Freehold, we handle emancipation, divorce and family law matters throughout central New Jersey, including Middlesex, Monmouth, Mercer, and Somerset Counties.

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