Case shows how legal emancipation affects child support obligations

When it comes to child support, most people believe that a parent’s obligations end when the child reaches the age of 18, as they are then viewed as adults in the eyes of the law.

The reality, however, is somewhat different. Indeed, the law here in New Jersey dictates that in the absence of legal emancipation, so-called “adult children” can actually be the recipients of financial support from their parents — typically as it relates to higher education costs — up to the age of 23.

In general, legal emancipation does not occur at an established age or simply because parents decide this to be the case. Rather, once a child is over 18, parents must present sufficient proof to the court indicating that “the child has moved beyond the sphere of influence and responsibility exercised by a parent and obtains an independent status of his or her own.”  

As it turns out, this very issue was recently explored in a case before the Appellate Division of the Superior Court.

Here, a 22-year-old woman was appealing the decision of a Camden County Superior Court judge to terminate the support obligation of her adoptive father, who adopted her back in 1994 shortly after marrying her biological mother.

The adoptive father and biological mother divorced in 2002, with the adoptive father continuing to pay college costs and child support. However, he ultimately filed a motion to terminate these obligations after learning that his adoptive daughter had moved in with her biological father and his wife.

Specifically, both he and his ex-wife (i.e., the biological mother) agreed that the support obligations should be terminated given that his adoptive daughter was legally emancipated.

The trial court judge agreed and the adoptive daughter appealed, arguing that she was currently a student, and in need of financial assistance given that her part-time job paid less than $8 per hour and she relied on her biological father’s wife to cover expenses. In other words, she was far from emancipated.

The appellate panel disagreed, however, finding that the evidence showed that she had indeed withdrawn from her parents sphere of influence, and made her own financial and living arrangements.

To learn more about your options as they relate to child support, including modification, enforcement and termination, consider speaking with an experienced legal professional.  

Date Published: February 7, 2017

Written by: Cooper Levenson, P.A.

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