New Legislative Proposal Would Set Age of Automatic Emancipation at 19
About half of U.S. states, including our neighbors New York and Pennsylvania, provide for automatic emancipation. In other words, emancipation of a minor happens automatically at the time of marriage, joining the military, or upon achieving the age of majority, an age which varies from state to state. New Jersey, however, does not have automatic emancipation at the moment. Parents paying child support who want to end their obligation must convince the parent receiving support to consent to termination and emancipation or, alternatively, head to court and seek a judge's order. One Assemblyman from Mercer County is seeking to change that dynamic by setting a black-letter statutory emancipation age of 19. The legislation, A2721 , is comprehensive and addresses a number of related issues including support for multiple children when one is emancipated as well as the disposition of arrears. New Jersey would provide for three specific circumstances whereby a child could remain unemancipated past age 19 by operation of law: (1) another age for the termination of the obligation to pay child support is specified in a court order; (2) the parents of the child consent and the court approves the continuation of support until another predetermined date; or (3) the court extends the obligation to pay child support based on an application by a parent or the child filed prior to the child attaining the age of 19. A parent could also file with the court to temporarily prevent emancipation on one or more of the following grounds: (1) the child is still enrolled in high school or other secondary educational program; (2) the child is participating full-time in a post-secondary education program; (3) the child has a physical or mental disability that existed prior to the child reaching the age of 19 and requires continued support; or (4) other exceptional circumstances as may be approved by the court. Any extensions would still need to be accompanied by a date certain upon which emancipation would take place. Many child support payors will embrace this legislative proposal with open arms. However, in some key ways, setting a date certain for emancipation with exceptions and opportunities for extension (as noted above) simply shifts the burden when parents litigate child support for older or adult kids rather than alter the end result in all cases. At present, the paying spouse must initiate litigation to affect emancipation. This new proposal would require the spouse receiving child support to file a motion in order to keep support coming in for their child in addition to grappling with college contribution. Advance planning will also become even more critical if New Jersey ultimately adopts a version of A2721. Divorcing parents may consider incorporating specific custom emancipation arrangements into their marital or property settlement agreements. Don't get taken off guard by the challenges associated with support for older children. We'll continue to keep you in the loop concerning any potential changes in the law, if you have any questions regarding emancipation, child support, or family court matters generally in New Jersey, please contact us online today or call (856) 546-1350 for a confidential consultation with one of our skilled family court lawyers.