Definition of Emancipation of a Child
Emancipation is the legal act of a minor becoming free from the custody and control of a parent or guardian. Likewise, the parent or guardian is free from responsibility toward the child.
Emancipation does not automatically occur when a child has reached 18 years of age, as many people believe. In fact, in New Jersey it typically occurs much later for reasons we will discuss below.
Child Support – When Is it Terminated?
In most instances we use the term ‘emancipated’ when discussing the termination of child support payments. At the outset it’s important to understand that in New Jersey child support payments do not automatically end when a child reaches 18.
How is a Child Emancipated?
Since there is no set age at which a child is automatically emancipated in New Jersey, emancipation can occur in two different ways. The parents divorce settlement agreement can specify when emancipation will occur. If not provided for in the settlement agreement, a court will declare a child emancipated if it determines that the child is outside the ‘sphere of influence’ of the parents. Determining whether a child is outside the ‘sphere of influence’ is fact sensitive, but generally means that the child lives independently, without depending on the parents for support.
Emancipation and Termination of Child Support in Property Settlement Agreement
Specifying when emancipation will occur in the property settlement agreement is often a good way to avoid a legal dispute over child support payment termination in the future. The settlement can include language that defines when the child will be emancipated and the obligation to pay child support will end. Such provisions typically lists one of the following triggering events, though others are possible:
- Child reaching age 18 or completing college, whichever comes last
- Child getting married
- Child entering the armed services
- Child having full time, not-temporary employment
- Death of the child
Common Scenarios That Influence Emancipation Decisions
In New Jersey, courts require divorced parents to contribute to their child’s college education if financially able to do so. As one typically begins college around age 18, and college typically lasts 4 years, emancipation for a child that attends college may not take place until the child is 22 years old, or possibly older, as courts typically do not emancipate children who have temporarily stopped attending school. In some cases, courts have even found that a child is not emancipated while pursuing a graduate degree.
Aside from education, there are other factors to consider in determining whether a child should be emancipated. A child’s disability may allow for the child to remain unemancipated for longer than he or she would be without the disability, if, for example, the child needs continuing care or financial support. A child who becomes pregnant, without being married and moving away from home may not be deemed emancipated if still dependent on her parents.
Determining whether a child is emancipated is fact-sensitive, with courts weighing many factors to come to a decision. If you have any questions about the emancipation of a child, please contact Peter Van Aulen for a free consultation.