By John Jones, Esq.
In New Jersey, when a child reaches the age of 18, he/she is considered “emancipated.” That term means the child is deemed to have moved beyond his/her parent’s economic field of influence and is on their own. However, like virtually every other rule of family law, there are a number of exceptions.
The most important exception is that the child must not only be 18 but must have completed his/her education. In many cases, this means graduation from high school. However, child support can extend well beyond high school, provided the child is pursuing college or other post-high school education. Even graduate school, i.e. post-college, may keep a child unemancipated.
Common examples of when a child may be deemed emancipated are:
- Marriage, even if the marriage is void or voidable, and despite any annulment.
- Permanent residence away from the residence of a parent. (Residence at boarding school, camp or college is typically not deemed to be a residence away from the residence of a parent.)
- Death of the child.
- Entry into the Armed Force, whether voluntarily or involuntarily.
- Engaging in full-time employment after attaining the age of 18. (Employment of the child while continuing his/her education, or full-time employment during summer vacation periods, or participating in a work-study or a work-intern program in conjunction with the child’s education, is typically not deemed an emancipation event.)
In this day and age, many children do not complete their college education in the traditional four years. Perhaps they drop-out for a semester or two, or all the courses required for the child’s major are not available within the four year term. Can a child be emancipated and then “unemancipated”? The Family Part judges will look at such cases closely, because the judges want to make sure a child is not being penalized for legitimate interruptions of their education. If it is clear the child has a reasonable explanation for the interruption in their education, a judge can deny an emancipation application. Even if a child has been declared emancipated, a court can subsequently find the child is now no longer emancipated.
In any case, the court will want to make sure the child is a full-time student and getting passing grades. Full-time is generally considered to be twelve or more credit hours per semester.
Obviously, these cases are extremely fact sensitive. Your Family Law attorney should be able to advise you on the relative chances of success in the event you make an application to the court to emancipate a child.