What Does it Take to Emancipate a Child in New Jersey?
The Garden State is in a minority of states that does not have an automatic emancipation or objective and defined criteria for emancipation. We have previously explained that Emancipation Isn't Automatic in New Jersey. In the past year, legislation was introduced in New Jersey that would make emancipation automatic when the child reaches 18 years old. There were certain exceptions to the automatic emancipation bill, and the custodial parent receiving support had an opportunity to go to court to extend child support. And while this bill advanced through the legislature, it never became law. This leaves us with our essential question: “What does it take to emancipate a child in New Jersey?” Unfortunately, there is no bright line rule. Our courts, when considering whether a child is emancipated, will look to determine whether the child is self-supporting and has moved “beyond the sphere of influence and responsibility exercised by a parent and obtains it independent status of his or her own.” But what does that mean? In New Jersey, there is no specific age for emancipation, however, there is a rebuttable presumption against emancipation prior to the child attaining the age of majority which is by statute 18 years old. A child is beyond the sphere of influence and obtains independent status when they have reached the age of majority, been married, or joins the military. Just because a child has reached the age of 18 does not mean that they are emancipated. Attainment of age 18 establishes a prima facie, but not conclusive proof of emancipation. Whether a child should be emancipated at age 18 is a very fact specific question. In the case, Newburgh vs Arrigo, the Court held that, “… in appropriate circumstances, the privilege of parenthood carries with it a duty to be sure a necessary education for children.” However, if an application for emancipation is made and the child is over 18 years old, the burden of proving the child has not moved beyond the sphere of influence shifts to the parent who is opposing the emancipation. The burden on the parent opposing the emancipation is not all that significant. The parent opposing the emancipation can demonstrate that the child is enrolled as a full-time student in college or in trade school, and that is usually sufficient to defeat a motion for emancipation. The Court in the Newburgh case recognized how, “Frequently, the issue of that duty arises in the context of a divorce or separation proceeding where a child, after attaining majority, seeks contribution from a non-custodial parent for the cost of a college education. In those cases, courts have treated “necessary education” as a flexible concept that can vary in different circumstances.” A key consideration in whether a child is emancipated is the child's access to healthcare. If the child does not have healthcare or the child relies upon one of their parents to provide them with healthcare, this can be used as a factor to defeat a motion for emancipation. There is no exhaustive list of facts or factors used by the court to determine whether the child has obtained independent status. Again, the key is demonstrating to the court that the child is moved beyond the sphere parental influence and has obtained independent status of their own. Emancipation motions are complicated and often involve complex factual and legal analysis. 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 directly: (856) 546-1350.