Under New Jersey law, parents are presumptively required to provide for the financial support of their unemancipated children. While many parents believe child support automatically terminates when a child reaches age 18, this is not true in New Jersey. Child support terminates upon a child’s emancipation. Importantly, the definition of emancipation varies by state, making it extremely pertinent parents are aware of their state’s laws. In New Jersey, emancipation is a fact sensitive analysis which looks at when a child moves beyond the sphere of influence and responsibility exercised by a parent and obtains an independent status of his or her own. A court’s emancipation determination involves a critical evaluation of the prevailing circumstances including the child’s needs, interests, and independent resources, the family’s reasonable expectations, and the parties’ financial ability, among other things.
Recently, the New Jersey Legislature enacted N.J.S.A. 2A:17-56.67 which automatically terminates child support orders upon a child reaching age 19. Notwithstanding this law, child support may continue until the child is age 23 under certain circumstances, such as the child attending college or if there is a physical or mental disability. It is important to note that this statute relates to the collection of child support through county Probation departments and did not change the longstanding emancipation laws discussed above.
The interplay between our emancipation laws and the newly enacted N.J.S.A. 2A:17-56.67 was addressed in the recent unpublished Appellate Division decision of J.L. v. B.L. In that case, the child in question was 26 years of age. The mother argued child support should continue as the child suffered from mental health problems impairing his ability to work. Despite the law providing for automatic termination of child support orders at age 19, the Court continued to look at whether the child was emancipated under the circumstances. The Court held that the 10 child support factors in N.J.S.A. 2A:34-23(a) must be addressed, including the parties’ respective income and assets and the child’s ability to receive public benefits and services prior to the continuance of any child support obligation.
The term and amount of child support is a fact sensitive analysis which is best discussed with an experienced attorney who can advise you of your exposure to pay support, or ability to receive same. In addition, a lawyer can assist parents in being proactive and avoiding future litigation by including language in settlement agreements defining the terms of emancipation.
The attorneys at Donahue, Hagan, Klein & Weisberg have experience in negotiating, mediating and litigating the issue of emancipation and can provide the necessary assistance in this area of the law. Contact us for a consultation.