In Ort v. Ort, 428 N.J. Super. 290 (Ch. Div. 2012), the parties’ daughter sought a formal Order of emancipation from both of her parents. She retained her own attorney and asserted that she wished to be emancipated from her parents so that she could legally be her own person and make her own independent decisions in life. While she had a positive relationship with her mother, she alleged that her father was using his status as “joint legal custodian” to improperly obstruct and overrule her wishes relative to where she would attend college. Her mother supported her daughter’s desire for independence. The father, however, objected to his daughter’s request and argued strenuously against emancipation asserting that she was too young and too inexperienced to take such a step and that she was not outside the “sphere of parental influence.” Id. at 292-293. Judge Jones granted the application. He noted that there are no known reported New Jersey Opinions that directly address the issue of an 18-year-old child’s request for emancipation over parental objection. Id. at 293. Judge Jones, in reaching his conclusion to emancipate the daughter, relied heavily on N.J.S.A. 9:17B-3, which provides that the age of majority is 18 or more years of age.
Research reveals no New Jersey case dealing with the self-emancipation of a person under 18 years of age. The Supreme Court of New Mexico, however, had the opportunity to address just such an issue. In Diamond v. Diamond, 283 P.3rd 260 (N.M. 2012), a 16-year-old petitioned the District Court for a declaration of emancipation pursuant to the New Mexico Emancipation of Minors Act, NMSA 1978 Sections 32A-21-12-7 (1995) (the “Act”). 283 P.3rd at 261. The daughter had left the home of the mother at age 13 and had been living with several different households since that time. Id. The daughter, represented by counsel, told the District Court that she had moved out of her mother’s home due to domestic violence and substance abuse issues. The daughter had been working since the age of 11, including for the past several years as a restaurant server and busser, while maintaining a high grade point average as a sophomore in high school. Id. The daughter stated she had no intention of returning to live with her mother, who maintained a relationship with the man whose violent behavior and substance abuse had contributed to the daughter’s decision to leave the mother’s home.
The matter ultimately reached the New Mexico Supreme Court where the daughter petitioned the Supreme Court for certiorari requesting the Court to resolve whether the Act permits a District Court to declare a minor emancipated for certain purposes while reserving that minor’s right to seek support from her parent. Id. The Supreme Court agreed. Id.
The Diamond decision presents compelling facts. However, unlike the New Mexico case, New Jersey does not have an Emancipation of Minor’s Act. Presumably, therefore, the standard to be applied would be what is in the best interests of the child. How a New Jersey judge would decide a case of a 17-year-old or younger person is therefore unclear. The case would be highly fact sensitive. Under New Jersey law, however, it is clear that if a child reaches the age of 18, he or she does have the right to be emancipated.
If you have a question regarding the self-emancipation of a child, contact the attorneys at Donahue, Hagan, Klein & Weisberg, LLC for a consultation. We are Family Court lawyers located in Morristown, New Jersey. Our experienced attorneys will be happy to discuss this process with you.