It is a common misconception that children automatically emancipate upon reaching the age of eighteen in New Jersey. In reality, there is no specific age when a child emancipates and child support payments terminate.
In fact, New Jersey law is clear that such findings are always fact-sensitive based on the circumstances of each case.
In practice, the burden to emancipate a child absent consent generally falls upon the non-custodial parent. A recent bill signed into law by Governor Christie seeks to reverse this trend. Rather than place the burden on the non-custodial parent to cease payments, this new law will place a greater burden on the custodial parent to continue to receive child support payments. For purposes of this article I will refer to this legislation as the “termination of child support law.”
The law becomes effective on February 1, 2017 for “all child support orders issued prior to, on, or after the effective date.” Of importance is the law’s presumption that child support will automatically terminate upon the child’s nineteenth birthday and that it will be the responsibility of the custodial parent to establish a basis for child support to continue unless “another age (which shall not exceed age twenty three) is specified in a court order.” Standing alone, the “age twenty three” provision is a radical change to current law.
Notably, the termination of child support law only applies to child support paid through a Probation Department. This is because the purpose of the law is to reduce court backlog and shift the burden to custodial parents in order to continue to receive child support. However, the practical effect may be the filing of more court applications than before and raise more questions about the fact-sensitive nature of emancipation.
It is important that persons receiving or paying child support through a Probation Department consider obtaining legal advice regarding their rights and more importantly, the rights of the child(ren) under the new law.