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Emancipation and child support obligation changes in New Jersey

By Sarah Jacobs, Esq.

There will be some big changes to how children are emancipated and child support obligations are terminated in New Jersey next year.

As a result of a law (P.L. 2015, c.223) signed by Governor Christie on January 19, 2016, a child will be automatically emancipated and child support will be automatically terminated (for that child only) once that child turns nineteen (19) years old. L. 2015, c. 223, §1(a). It is believed that this law will be applied “retroactively,” such that a child support award established in 2005 or 2015 would be subject to the law’s provisions even though the obligation went into effect long before the law was signed.

This will not leave parents of children who legitimately require continued support with no way to continue to receive it after they turn nineteen (19) years old. Rather, the new law requires that the parent receiving the support on behalf of their child make a request to the Court that support continue or show that the parties intended for it to continue past the child’s nineteenth (19th) birthday. In order to avoid the automatic termination, most parents receiving child support must either 1) show that a Court Order or Settlement Agreement provided for a different age at which child support is to terminate (not to exceed age twenty three (23)); or 2) submit a petition the Court prior to the child’s nineteenth birthday requesting that child support continue. L. 2015, c. 223, §1(a)(1)-(2). If a later date is not reduced to writing, the parent receiving support must show that the child 1) remains in high school or a similar secondary education program; 2) is a full-time student in a post-secondary education program; or 3) has been deemed physically or mentally disabled by a federal/state agency and such disability existed prior to their nineteenth (19th) birthday. L. 2015, c. 223, §1(b)(1)(a)-(c).

Further, a “catch all” provision provides for continued child support on the basis of “exceptional circumstances,” although same is not defined in the law and is up to the Court to determine. L. 2015, c. 223, §1(b)(2). As the law does not go into effect until February 1, 2017, and it is anticipated that it will take time for our Courts to review and define “exceptional circumstances,” it will be a while before there is consensus in the community as to what constitutes an “exceptional circumstance.”

While the law specifically states that all child support obligations must terminate no later than age twenty three (23), it further contains provisions for the continued payment of some type(s) of support to those children who still require it. L. 2015, c. 223, §1(e). First, the law does not prohibit children from applying for a support order, however funds paid to the child cannot be deemed to be child support. Second, the law does not prohibit the continuation of financial support past age twenty three (23) in the face of “exceptional circumstances.” L. 2015, c. 223, §1(e)(1)-(2). Here, this includes (but is not limited to) a physical or mental disability. L. 2015, c. 223, §1(e)(2).

If your child support obligation is collected and paid out through your local Probation Department, the law requires that the parties be notified in advance of the child’s nineteenth (19th) birthday that child support will terminate at that time and what can be done in order to avoid that result. L. 2015, c. 223, §1(d). If you are paying child support, you may still need to petition the Court to modify your support obligation even after a child is automatically emancipatedwhen your support obligation covers multiple children and the remaining children are under nineteen (19) years old or have not been similarly emancipated by the Court. L. 2015, c. 223, §2(a).

Ensuring your child receives the proper support, and that child support that is not warranted is not paid, may become more difficult in the immediate aftermath of this law taking effect next year. To prepare yourself for the changes to how and when child support is terminated, and to protect yourself in the months leading up to the new law taking effect, contact us for a consultation.

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At Jacobs Berger, our attorneys are experienced in protecting our clients across Madison, Randolph, Tewksbury, Morristown, and the greater Morris County area in all family law-related issues.

To schedule a strategic planning session with one of our experienced team members regarding your particular case, please contact us online or through our Morristown, NJ office at (973) 354-4506.