Child Support – Is Eighteen Old Enough to Emancipate your Child?

Posted in Divorce & Family Law

If you’re paying child support in New Jersey, you might expect those payments to automatically terminate on your child’s eighteenth birthday. Depending upon the circumstances, that expectation could be wrong.

Child support terminates when the Court finds that a child is emancipated. The Court’s decision of whether or not to emancipate a child depends upon its analysis of the unique facts presented in each case. Since there is no specific age in New Jersey when a child will be deemed emancipated, there is no specific age that automatically terminates a parent’s obligation to pay child support.

Parents often agree about when to emancipate a child well in advance of the child’s eighteenth birthday. When the parents are formally divorced, the divorce judgment or settlement agreement usually address the issue in detail. However, some parents may disagree about how the wording of such documents apply to their child’s circumstances. Worse still, many parents have never even discussed the appropriate time to emancipate their child and terminate child support.

If you and your child’s other parent are unable to reach such an agreement about when your child should be emancipated, it may be necessary to file a motion with the Court. However, the process is complicated and can be overwhelming without legal representation and significant preparation. Typically, parents file competing applications that may or may not present enough evidence for the Court to make its final decision.

After reviewing each parent’s motion and supporting documents, the Court may find it necessary to conduct a plenary hearing, or formal trial, upon the single issue of whether it is appropriate to emancipate the child at that time. If the Court conducts a plenary hearing, it is in the best interest of each parent to spend a great deal of time preparing their respective witnesses, evidence, and testimony.

Once the Court has all of the evidence it needs, it will critically evaluate all of the facts presented. Generally, the Court presumes that it is not appropriate to emancipate a child who is under the age of eighteen. However, it is sometimes possible to overcome that presumption. There is also a rebuttable presumption that a child who reaches the age of eighteen should be emancipated.

Once a parent who seeks to emancipate the child establishes that the child is in fact, eighteen years of age or older, the parent who opposes the emancipation has the burden to prove that it is still not appropriate to emancipate the child. If that parent fails to meet the burden, the child will be emancipated.

The Court will often emancipate a child if it finds that the child has moved beyond the sphere of influence and responsibility exercised by a parent, and if the child has obtained an independent status of his or her own. The analysis often focuses upon: the child’s maturity level, the child’s educational and career status, the child’s educational and career goals, the child’s reasonable needs to achieve those goals, the ability of the parents to continue to pay support, and any agreement previously reached between the parents about when to emancipate the child.

Due to the fact that the Court evaluates each emancipation application based upon the distinct facts of each case, it is always beneficial to retain the assistance of an attorney to help you through the process.

  • steven augen

    I was about to split the cost of my son’s College costs, 50/50 (including continuing child support as payment. Ex wife decided to renege and wants me to split costs(he’ll be away upstate NY)and sill pay support . What can I do. My income is about 1/2 of my ex wife’s and i have 2 other sons from second ,current marriage.

  • Tom

    My biological son (which I never had contact with) recently turned 18. A NJ Court order remains in effect, although his mother has not resided in NJ for over 13 years. Primary residence has been in Fl and now in TX. I continue to reside in NJ .

    I have found no information as to whether he graduated high school or is seeking a college education. If I file a motion for emmancipation, what are the chances of it being granted if not contested by the custodial parent ?

  • dee

    My boyfriend’s daughter is 19 working f/t and goes to school at night does he still have to pay child support for her she is still living at home with her mother.

  • Fred

    I just read an article about how expensive the process of divorce is. I think one of the things our legislature could do to decrease the cost of the process is to make emancipation automatic. When the child is both 1) eighteen years old, and 2) out of high school. I don’t know about your backgrounds, but when I was 18 I was eligible for the draft, and I think if the US Govt can establish that 18 is old enough for a draft, then I think it is old enough for emanicipation.

  • steve espen

    My daughter will graduate from Temple University in May of 2006, after five years as a full time student there.She will be 23 the week of grauation. New Jersey says they will not stop the child support order because of some sphere of influence business. A motion will take a year to be heard…..Help I am in my mid-fifties and this states still steals a third of my income, which my daughter dose not directly recieve..I have been told this can go on forever..Is there any other place in the cosmos this happens?What a nightmare!!!!!

  • TT

    My daughter is 18 years old and she is a freshmen in college. She is also in the Air Force reserves part time. Under the state of NJ, am I still responsible for paying child support?

  • Your situation is very factually specific and under the Rule of Attorney Ethics, I am prohibited from giving specific legal advice to an individual who is not a client. Generally speaking a child will not be considered if he or she is still in school on full-time basis. If you would like to discuss this issue in greater detail, feel free to schedule a consultation with my secretary at 609.895.7380.

    Thank you for your inquiry,
    Sandy Durst

  • Dear Mr. Espen:

    I can assure you that your frustration is shared by many parents in similar situations. It would typically take the Court a month to hear a motion to emancipate. Please contact me at the (609) 895-7271 to discuss your options.

    Cary Kvitka

  • Bill

    As a young adult without any mental or physical handicaps, s/he is quite capable of (1) finding a full/part-time job, (2) applying to any branch of the armed forces (the discipline of which would aid his/her development), or (3) attending college on a full or part-time basis while acquiring scholarship and grant funding along with student loans to finance his education.

    As a former Ward of the State of New Jersey, upon turning eighteen years old, I received a letter from the State of NJ that essentially said “You are no longer a ward of the state�good luck with your future”. I subsequently applied to colleges, got accepted, and financed my education by working 24-32 hours per week and applying for grants, scholarships, and student loans. After successfully graduating, I financed my Masters degree, and as a result developed a deep sense of ability and independence. To declare a person an adult (age of majority), yet still provide that “adult” child support is (1) illogical, (2) unfairly burdensome to the payor who must finance his own retirement, and (3) encourages an un-healthy sense of entitlement akin to a “welfare mentality”.

    Most US states terminate child support upon 18/19 years of age and high school graduation. Why is NJ so draconian on this emancipation issue? Aren’t the NJ courts being overwhelmingly intrusive on family matters and unfair to the payor?

  • J Johnson

    I have a daughter who is about to turn 19
    she graduated high school in ’05 and also
    had a child of her own in ’03 in June of
    ’05 the mother partitioned the court for an increase I live in Boston.Ma so I ask for a telephonic hearing and was told by
    the probation dept.that was fine needless
    to say the day of the hearing no one was
    at the # that was given I have since been
    paying 4 times what I was then.After she
    was out of HS I was told that I could file for emancipation but the court would
    more than likely deny because she hasn’t been out of school for a year; So I waited for a year in June of’06 I went
    to Jersey to file for Emancipation know-
    ing that she had not enrolled any school
    full/time in that year. She has had a
    full/time job for the past 3 years and
    as of Sept.of ’06 takes 2 classes on Sat.’s my partition was denied because
    she’s a full/time student.I a clerk I don’t make a lot of money I have 3 kids
    19 soon to be,one 17 and 2year.Is there
    anything anyone can help me with this.

  • Dear Mr. Johnson,

    Depending upon the length of time that has elapsed since the last Order, there are several options available to you. Those options all involve filing some form of formal application with the Court.

    Please feel free to contact my assistant, Sheila Morris at the telephone number below to schedule a consultation. Since you’re living in Boston, we can hold the consultation over the phone. However, I would need to see copies of any and all orders, judgments, and motions that have been filed so it would make sense for you to provide that to me in advance. My consultation rate is $200.

    Thank you very much. I hope to hear from you soon.

    Cary Kvitka

  • Hellen

    My Father fathered a child and she will be 18 in March 07…all the child support payments, court dates etc…were in New Jersey…but 5 years ago she with her family moved without my fathers consent to North Carolina. He has had no contact with the child or her mother. He wants to stop paying and he feels if she is eighteen he should stop paying, also it is a huge burden on him financially.
    can you please help?..any suggestions??

  • Curt,

    I am not permitted under the ethical rules to provide specific legal advice to anyone who has not retained me.

    If you have any specific inquiries, please contact my office to schedule a consultation and we can go from there.

    Thank you for your interest.

    Cary Kvitka

  • Helen,

    Unfortunately, I am not permitted under the ethical rules to provide specific legal advice to anyone who has not retained me. Emancipation is a very fact-specific process, therefore, my advice would depend heavily upon the circumstances in the case.

    Please advise your father to contact my office to schedule a consultation if he has any specific inquiries, and we can go from there.

    Thank you for your interest.

    Cary Kvitka

  • Catherine,

    As an attorney, I am not allowed to provide specific legal advice to anyone who isn’t a client. But – take a close look at the article I wrote – it explains the standards that a Court would use to determine whether or not you should be emancipated. I hope that helps.


  • Joanne

    Hi have a sixteen year old son who is not going to school. Altough his father started paying support a year ago, my son dosen’t go to high school anymore does his father still have to pay support? I live in NJ.

  • Joanne,

    I can not offer specific legal advice to anyone who is not retained as a client. In general, however, your son’s father will be legally obligated to pay support until your son is emancipated. The standards for emancipation are provided in my article. Please feel free to contact me if your son’s father files a motion to emancipate, and thank you for your interest.