Emancipation: My Child Has Just Turned 18, Now What?

Often when people think of an emancipated child they conjure up ideas from the media of a minor child formally divorcing their parents in court so they can become financially independent. However, in New Jersey, refers to something completely different, especially for the parents entering into a property settlement agreement during a divorce. The legal act of emancipation, initiated by the parent ordered by the court to pay child support, is usually brought when he or she no longer is legally obligated to do so (based upon certain qualifying conditions for emancipation).

In the state of New Jersey, a child is regarded as “emancipated” when he or she is “beyond the sphere of influence” and financial support of a parent. In other words, emancipation results when the custodial parent no longer makes decisions for the child and the child no longer receives financial support from his or her parents. Although some states differ, New Jersey requires payment of child support even after a child reaches the age of majority and is still attending college, or has a disability that requires financial support. New Jersey is unique in that there is no exact age limit for emancipation.

Given the state of the economy, price of tuition for college and higher education, high cost of living, and job market, many young adults are still financially dependent on their parents. Short of filing a motion to emancipate the child, parents may try to modify their child support payments if the child is living away at college and receives scholarships or works part-time, prior to when the child will be considered emancipated.

Usually, the property settlement will spell out the terms and conditions of when a child will be considered emancipated, and when the payment of child support shall terminate; however, the courts will have to step in to decide whether the child is considered emancipated if there is a slightest hint of ambiguity or this provision has been omitted. Prior to terminating child support, the court will consider the child’s needs, interests, independent resources, including expectations of the parties and financial conditions of the parents as well as other relevant factors when deciding whether the child has reached independent status. It is worth noting that parents will be on the hook for paying unpaid child support payments. The courts in NJ have also gone so far as to “unemancipate” the child after the child was declared emancipated by the parties or the courts, and also award credits or reimbursements of overpaid child support payments to those parents who were initially in the dark about whether their child was emancipated.

The Bronzino Law Firm: Assisting Clients with Emancipation Concerns

If you believe that you are not obligated to continue making child-support payments, or you receive such a challenge, please contact our office immediately at (732) 812-3102 to learn more about your legal options. We are located in Brick, New Jersey and serve the counties of Ocean, Monmouth, and the surrounding areas.