Everything You Need to Know About Emancipating Your Kids
Need a crash course in emancipation and how that affects child support payments? Whether you’re the non-custodial parent paying support or the custodial parent collecting support, you’ve come to the right place. Smedley Law Group founder AllynMarie Smedley, Esq. answers the questions we hear most often about emancipation.
Q: So, what's emancipation exactly?
Ali Smedley: Emancipation is a legal process that allows a minor to assume responsibility for their own welfare. When a child becomes emancipated, his or her parents aren't legally obligated to offer support anymore. Emancipation can definitely be a complex topic—and process—and the laws governing it vary from state to state. That's why any party involved in an emancipation matter should seek legal counsel.
Q: I’ve heard there’s a “new” child support law that involves emancipation. What’s it all about?
AS: Yes, New Jersey’s Child Support Termination Law. New Jersey’s legislature adopted a law on termination of child support that went into effect Feb. 1, 2017. The law allows for child support to end without either party needing to formally petition the court to end it when the child in question reaches the age of 19. Before this law went into effect, a child support obligation continued until one parent made a motion or application to the court to emancipate the child and terminate child support.
Previously, without an order terminating the obligation, it would continue to accrue, even if the child was legally an adult and emancipated, resulting in a lot of unnecessary debt and headaches for both parties. It was common, prior to the enactment of this law, for child support to continue for years after a child should have been emancipated; this resulted in a parent either paying for years beyond when he or she should have or, in the case of a direct payment made to the Probation Division, the accrual of tens of thousands of dollars in support arrears, which is a significant financial detriment to the paying parent.
Q: So what happens when my child turns 19 in terms of child support?
AS: A parent can make a motion or an application to declare their child emancipated, ending child support, when the child moves beyond the parent’s “sphere of influence.” In New Jersey, there’s a presumption of emancipation at age 18, when the child has graduated high school, and isn’t disabled and dependent on them. However, the courts will often give 18-year-olds a chance to get future plans (like getting a job) in place before support ends. If the child hits 18, graduates high school and then has no plans to attend college, often a non-custodial parent’s motion for emancipate will be granted (a motion to have the child emancipated) and child support terminated. This motion is usually further supported when the child has moved out of the custodial parent’s home and gotten a full-time job.
Q: Does this mean that if my child turns 19, I can stop paying child support?
AS: No. You can’t stop until a court order to terminate support is ended. However, the law ensures that the support stops automatically unless the custodial parent files to continue it. In that instance, you must keep paying until a judge says yes or no, even if the child is over 19. As for when a child reaches 23, child support will stop but the custodial parent can petition to continue it past 23—this needs to be decided by a judge. Q: When does child support continue past the age of 19?
AS: This can happen in a few cases, such as:
If a court order mandates a different age or date for termination of child support
The child is still enrolled in high school
The child is enrolled full-time in college or vocational school state
A federal agency determines that the child’s physical or mental condition meets the standard for disability before the child reaches age 19
The child is in DCPP’s custody.
Q: If I’m receiving child support, how can I request that it continue after my child turns 19?
AS: You’ll need to submit a written request for continuation if one of the exceptions I just mentioned exists after age 19. That request will include the correct forms provided with the notice and evidence of the exception. For example, you might need a letter from the child’s high school stating that they’re still enrolled with an expected graduation date, or a letter from the child’s college stating that they’re enrolled full-time, with an expected date of graduation. Note though, that you must send in the written request for continuation at least 45 days before the child’s 19th birthday. If you’re the payor, you should know that when forms are received support is automatically continued—that means it falls to the paying parent to go to court to stop payment.
Q: What if my settlement agreement has language regarding emancipation? What if it doesn’t?
AS: This law won’t change the terms of your child support order, so if your order states either the exact date your child will be considered emancipated, such as when they graduate from college, this will be the termination date for child support. If the Probation Division enforces and collects your child support, that expected date will also be noted as the termination date. If your agreement is silent, the law still governs when a child is emancipated; the revised statute simply provides for an automatic termination when the recipient takes no action to continue it.
Q: Will I have to pay child support after my child turns 23?
AS: There’s a possibility that it can continue, but it’s called “financial maintenance” after 23. “Child support” stops but that doesn’t mean a parent is off the hook per se. If financial maintenance is needed for a child who’s still in school after age 23 or disabled, the court may require additional ongoing funds from the non-custodial parent, but it’s not called child support. This is important to note because the Probation Division won’t enforce or collect these funds, and a new order must be entered requiring the non-custodial parent to pay these maintenance funds.
Q: Is there anything else I should know about child support?
AS: Yes—if there’s more than one child on a support order when the oldest child turns 19, they’re automatically removed as eligible for support from the rules. That will happen unless the custodial parent receiving support doesn’t contest the stoppage and modify it using one of the exceptions we just discussed. The child support order, however, will continue as if nothing had changed, so the non-custodial paying parent would need to go to court to get the order modified for the care of the remaining children if that’s determined to be beneficial after consulting with counsel.
Q: Where can I get more information?
AS: The NJ Office of Child Support Services and the Probation Division maintain the NJ Child Support website where parents can check the status of their child support account. The website also includes a Termination FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) section with questions and answers about the new child support termination law.
If you need help with a family law matter, our attorneys at Smedley Law Group can provide you with the professional advice you need to make an educated decision. Schedule a consultation with one of our attorneys today.