Child support payments are for the benefit and financial support of the child. However, the right to receive child support payments belongs to the recipient parent. 

The recipient parent has the legal right to petition the court for child support payments. The parent can seek to enforce child support obligations and request a modification of the child support payments. A minor generally does not have legal standing to file a lawsuit.

New Jersey High School Student Sues Parents for Child Support

There is a recent case that involves a child suing parents for child support. Rachel Canning was 18 years old at the time of the lawsuit. She was a high school senior at Morris Catholic High School. 

According to court documents and testimony, Rachel alleged that her parents kicked her out of the home when she turned 18 years old. Rachel also alleged that her parents were abusive. In addition, she claimed that she was the victim of psychological and emotional mistreatment. 

Her parents vehemently deny the abuse allegations. Instead, they claim that Rachel ran away from home because she wanted to live her life without any rules or parental supervision. In addition, they claimed that she was rebellious, drank alcohol while underage, and faced suspensions from school.

Rachel’s parents claim they instituted appropriate restrictions for her behavior, such as taking away phone and car privileges and telling her she could no longer see her boyfriend, who was also suspended from school. The parents claim that Rachel ran away to her boyfriend’s home when she learned of the restrictions. 

The New Jersey Division of Child Protection and Permanency investigated the allegations of abuse but found the allegations unfounded. 

Rachel stayed at her boyfriend’s home for a couple of nights before moving into the home of a friend and her parents. The friend’s parents assisted Rachel in filing for child support.

Rachel alleges that her parents are required to provide for her school tuition, food, clothing, and other necessities because she is still in high school. She alleges that she did not leave home voluntarily but was thrown out. Therefore, she alleges her parents are still responsible for her financial needs, including allowing her access to her existing college fund to pay for her college education. 

At the initial hearing, Judge Peter Bogaard denied Rachel’s request for high school tuition and current living expenses. However, Rachel was allowed to continue attending high school because she was an honor student. 

Judge Bogaard expressed concern about setting a dangerous precedent for future cases. He questioned what the next step might be, such as allowing a 12-year-old to sue parents for an X-Box.

The legal question of whether a child could sue parents for child support and college tuition if the child left home was never answered. Rachel returned home after the first hearing, so the matter became moot. 

Presumptive Age of Emancipation for Child Support Obligations in New Jersey

Child support obligations continue until the child is emancipated or the court orders an end to child support payments.

When Rachel filed her case, the age of emancipation was 18 years in New Jersey. However, under the Child Support Obligation Termination Law that went into effect on February 1, 2017, the presumptive age of emancipation was increased to 19 years. 

If the recipient parent wishes to continue receiving child support payments, the parent must file a petition with the court before the child’s 19th birthday. The burden of proving that child support obligations should continue is on the recipient parent.

The new law provides that all child support payments should end on the child’s 23rd birthday. There are some limited exceptions to this rule, such as child support payments for a disabled adult child. 

According to the law, a parent is no longer financially responsible for a child when that child becomes emancipated. One of the triggers for emancipation is the child moving out of the parent’s home. 

Therefore, if Rachel voluntarily moved out of her parent’s home, the court might have found that she was emancipated and the parents were not financially responsible. 

The Law Remains Unclear

Because the courts have yet to fully litigate a case involving a child suing a parent for support, the only guide we have is the current child support laws. If the court were to hear a case, the matter would be judged on the case’s specific facts. Thus, while the case could set a precedent, it might do so in a very narrowly defined ruling. 

If you have questions about child support obligations in New Jersey, it is best to speak with a child support lawyer who can address your specific concerns and situation.