There is no doubt that today’s generation tends to be more babied than in the past. Parents today are more inclined to give their children more financial support than ever before. I do not know many 20 something-year-olds who do not receive at least some financial assistance from their parents. Nothing is necessarily wrong with that, and those people are blessed to have safety nets in this competitive world. However, this can cause stress to divorced parents where one is willing to help, and the other is not. Courts (for lack of a better phrase) do not care. Once a child is emancipated, the non-custodial parent who had the child support obligation is freed from financially contributing to the child. Many believe that when a child turns 18, they are a legal adult and child support must cease. Emancipation is a little more complicated than that.
In 2017, New Jersey enacted N.J.S.A. 2A:17-56.67 that lays out the guidelines for emancipation. The New Jersey legislature recognizes that times change, and merely turning 18 does not necessarily mean a child is independent and is without the need of financial support. In the eyes of the court, a child is presumed to be emancipated at 19-years-old, presumed the critical word here. This means that when a child reaches 19, the non-custodial parent may stop paying child support. The burden shifts to the custodial parent, or the parent receiving the child support, to make an application with the court for child support to continue. There are three factors that would prevent emancipation when the child turns 19 and those are (1) the child is still in high school, (2) the child has a physical or mental disability that existed prior to the child turning 19, and most commonly (3) the child is a full-time college student. If a child meets any of those factors, child support obligations shall continue until the factor is no longer met, or until the child reaches 23. However, a child may be emancipated at 18 if they do not meet any of the factors, but it is not presumed. It would then be the non-custodial parent’s responsibility to make an application to the court.
The question as to whether your child should be emancipated does not stop there. If you have more than one child and the child support is unallocated, meaning the non-custodial parent does not pay a certain amount per child, the presumption rule does not apply. Let us say there are two children, Jane who is 16 and John who is 19. The non-custodial parent pays an unallocated amount of $200 per week in child support. The non-custodial parent is not allowed to cease payments for John, even though he is 19. Instead, it is the non-custodial parent’s burden to make an application to the court requesting John be emancipated. If the court finds emancipation to be appropriate (i.e., John does not meet any of the factors), child support will then be recalculated as it now only pertains to Jane.
In conclusion, if you are paying child support, do not assume you can stop making payments once you believe your child has reached the age of financial independence. There are many factors and scenarios to consider. If you stop paying prematurely or without a required court order, you may find yourself paying arrears. Here is a chart that may be used as a reference when you have a child you believe should be emancipated. >>> Emancipation Chart