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.