Can a Child be Emancipated Over a Parent's Objection?

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While it is common in divorce cases for a non-custodial parent to attempt to emancipate his or her child once the child reaches the age of majority, a recent Trial Court Decision addressed the issue of emancipation where an eighteen year old asked the Court to emancipate herself against the objections of the non-custodial father.

In that case, the daughter was a mature eighteen year old who planned to attend college,   medical school, and eventually become a physician.  However, her father was using his status as “joint legal custodian” to obstruct her career plans.  Accordingly, she asked the Court to declare her “emancipated” from both parents.

The father argued against the daughter's emancipation asserting that she was too young and still inside the “sphere of influence.” The Trial Court ultimately emancipated the daughter, relying on N.J.S.A. 9:17B-3--the New Jersey State Statute that declares a person an adult upon reaching the age of eighteen.  The Trial Court went on to outline the statutes and laws conferring rights to people upon turning eighteen years old.  These include voting rights, authority to purchase a shotgun, the right to marry, and the right to join the army.

Further, the Trial Court also relied upon the New Jersey Supreme Court case of Gac v. Gac, in reasoning that “if the over-eighteen child (now adult) does not seek the compulsory financial support of a parent, then that parent should not have any legal control over the adult child so long as that child is competent and can independently function as an adult.”  

The question of whether a child should be emancipated is a fact-sensitive determination.  Any person seeking to emancipate a child or themselves should consult with an experienced matrimonial attorney.   

Corrine Cooke is a member of Stark & Stark’s Divorce Group in the Lawrenceville, New Jersey office. For questions, please contact Ms. Cooke.

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