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South Jersey Law Blog

Emancipation Isn’t Automatic in New Jersey

Posted by Matt Rooney | Sep 25, 2013 | 0 Comments

UNLIKE SOME OTHER STATES, NJ KIDS CAN CONTINUE RECEIVING SUPPORT WHILE THEY REMAIN WITHIN THEIR PARENTS' “SPHERE OF INFLUENCE”

A very common misconception among our new DeMichele & DeMichele family law clients is that “emancipation” in New Jersey happens automatically when children reach the age of majority, i.e. when a child turns 18-years old. The problem with that? It's 100% not true. It's more accurate to say that a child may be eligible for emancipation at age 18 after graduation from high school. First and foremost, we need to briefly discuss what “emancipation” means in the family law context. The official New Jersey child support website explains how “[o]nce your child turns 18 and/or becomes financially independent, either parent must file papers with the court asking that the order be terminated or adjusted.” “Financial independence” is the key word in New Jersey. We all know that young adults are rarely financially “independent” in 2013. A growing plurality of kids in their late teens and early-to-mid 20s are either (1) continuing their education full-time or, unfortunately, (2) find themselves at home beset by punishing student loans and unable to find employment in a persistently weak job market. They aren't truly independent of their parents in any meaningful way. It's very important to appreciate what the Court is looking for when an emancipation application is before it. A 1997 Appellate Division decision, Filippone v. Lee, held that the court must ascertain  “whether the child has moved ‘beyond the sphere of influence and responsibility exercised by a parent and obtains an independent status of his or her own.'” That's a somewhat subjective standard, but it's one that has been interpreted relatively broadly in recent years.

Consequently, the Court may deny a non-custodial parent's application to emancipate a child – and cease paying child support for him or her – even though the child is no longer a “child” in the eyes of the law. This most typically occurs when, as mentioned above, the child is attending college on a full-time basis. There are also other extraordinary circumstances that give rise to long-term dependency including severe disabilities that prevent a child from working or, alternatively, when a parent agreed to a longer-term child support arrangement at the time of divorce by way of the parties' property settlement agreement. The process can take time. As always, when parents cannot agree, the Superior Court vicinage with jurisdiction over your child support case is the proper venue to resolve the dispute. Parents paying support need to file a motion application for emancipation and set forth a very detailed case describing their ability to pay, the child's current life circumstances and the family's financial condition unless, of course, they can obtain the custodial parent's consent. Parents receiving support need to provide the Court with college transcripts, doctor's notes, or whatever other evidentiary materials help demonstrate to the Court that the moving party's emancipation application is premature. If there are material factual differences between the parties' respective accounts, the Court may order a plenary hearing (or mini-trial). Achieving or defending against emancipation can be a complicated process. The facts must be compiled and presented in a way that meets New Jersey's promulgated standards. Compassionate, experienced and zealous representation is only an email or phone call away. If you or someone you know has questions about emancipation, college tuition contribution or child support generally in New Jersey, contact the family law attorneys at DeMichele & DeMichele online today.  Your confidential initial consultation can also be scheduled by calling our family law attorneys: (856) 546-1350.

About the Author

Matt Rooney

Practice Areas: Family Law (including Divorce, Alimony, Child Support, and Domestic Violence); Municipal Court; Personal Injury; Residential Real Estate; Civil Litigation; Collections.

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