Many people assume parental rights and responsibilities–including child support–will end automatically when a child turns 18 years of age. While this is true in many states, it is not true in New Jersey. Here’s what you need to know.

What is Emancipation?

Emancipation is the legal term for when a child is no longer the legal responsibility of his or her parents. Emancipated children are considered “adults” in the eyes of the court. Parents lose the right to make decisions on behalf of the child, but they are also excused from all financial support obligations–including child support.

In the Garden State, emancipation occurs at the discretion of the courts. In some cases, children may be emancipated before age 18. In other cases, children may continue receiving child support into their twenties (especially if they are attending college or grad school). In all emancipation cases, the court will review relevant facts and evidence to determine if the child remains “in the sphere of influence” of the parents.

Since emancipation is not traditionally an automatic process, how are separated or divorced parents supposed to know when to stop paying child support? Here are some good indicators that it might be a good time to consult a child support lawyer:

  • Your child is living outside the home
  • Your child is getting married
  • Your child is joining the armed forces
  • Your child has a full-time job
  • Your child graduated high school with no plans to attend college
  • Your child graduated college with no plans to attend graduate school

New Jersey’s 2017 Child Support Termination Law

In 2017, New Jersey law was modified to make the emancipation process slightly more automatic. The Termination of Child Support Statute went into effect Feb. 1, 2017, and specifies that child support payments automatically end when the child turns 19. Ending child support at age 19 does not require a separate court order.

There are many exceptions to this rule, and for parents whose child support is administered through a New Jersey Child Support Enforcement Probation unit, the custodial parent can still apply for an extension before the child turns 19. The statute may not apply if a different age or condition for the termination of support was specified in a previous court order or Judgment of Divorce.

Child support extension requests can continue until age 23. Under New Jersey law, child support will always end at age 23, no matter what. The parent or child may petition the court to convert the child support to another form of financial maintenance or financial support for a child that has reached the age of 23. This order, should it be granted, would not be considered child support and is not enforced or managed through a Probation unit.

The Child Support Termination Statute seems to provide more clarity on the issue of child support on paper, but implementation of the law is still young. It remains to be seen how the courts will interpret the text or operate within the new legal framework.

In the meantime, it’s best not to make assumptions about your child support payment timeline and be prepared to take the whole family’s personal and financial situation into account when seeking a court order.

A family lawyer can help you assign an “expiration date” to your child support agreement by including a provision that explicitly states all financial support ends at a stated age or condition. This can take the form of a specific date–such as the child’s 18th birthday–or a life event like marriage that might indicate financial independence.

If you cannot settle on a child support agreement, the court will create one for you. Each case is highly individual and will be judged on several factors. If you can negotiate an agreement outside of the courtroom, you should.

Don’t leave your fate in the hands of a judge. Our family law attorneys can help you protect the best interest of your child while preserving your personal financial health.