Under New Jersey law, emancipation of a child occurs when the dependent relationship between the parent and the child ends. The term emancipation is used largely in the context of child support, as the emancipation of a child signals the end of the requirement of a parent to pay child support. In the 2015 case of Llewelyn v. Shewchuk, the court answered the question of whether a child is emancipated when she chooses to live independently from either legal parent.
The facts of the Llewelyn case are interesting, as we typically see the parents as the parties bringing this type of litigation, but here we have the child as the “appellant” in this particular case and the child’s father as the defendant. In 1994 James Shewchuk (the defendant) adopted two-year-old Adrianna (the appellant) when he married her mother (who is the plaintiff in this case).
When Adrianna’s mother and James divorced in 2002, Adrianna lived with her mother and James was ordered to pay child support. In 2013 James sought to have Adrianna emancipated, which would terminate his requirement to pay child support for her. He did so based on the fact that Adrianna had moved out of her mother’s home and moved in with her biological father. Additionally, he gave evidence that she was not in school and was working. The mother agreed with James, and joined his motion to emancipate Adrianna. Adrianna showed the court that she was attending college part-time, but otherwise the family judge in the case agreed with the parents that Adrianna was emancipated. The court held that Adrianna “moved beyond the sphere of influence and responsibility exercised by her parents, and she is now independent of her parents.”
In the case at hand, the court noted that a child has a right to pursue support from his or her parents until he or she is emancipated. The court also noted that emancipation does not automatically happen when the child reaches 18 years of age, in some circumstances parents may be obligated to continue to provide support after that age. The question before the court in this case is a determination of whether Adrianna is emancipated. Emancipation is a legal concept that occurs “when the fundamental dependent relationship between parent and child ends.” Certainly this type of determination requires an examination of the facts present in each unique case.
Here, the facts are not in dispute. They show that Adrianna voluntarily moved out of her mother’s house to move in with her biological father. She attended college part-time, and had some of her expenses paid for by her biological father’s wife. The court concluded that Adrianna voluntarily “withdrew from her parents’ supervision and control” at age twenty, which resulted in her emancipating herself, and thus terminating James’ requirement to furnish child support.
If you are paying child support and have questions about when the child will be emancipated and your support obligation will end, call the Law Offices of Peter Van Aulen for a free consultation.
Llewelyn v. Shewchuk, 440 N.J. Super. 207 (App. Div. 2015)