For most children, the financial support and legal custody of their parent or parents is critical to their health and wellbeing. But depending on your family’s unique circumstances, there are times it may be prudent to consider your child’s emancipation.
Emancipation is when a child is considered an adult and no longer needs financial support or parental support in making decisions for their best interest. Once emancipated, a child is considered responsible for themselves in all ways. A child’s emancipation is considered moving beyond the sphere of their parents’ influence.
State laws regarding child emancipation vary. In New Jersey, some situations may automatically trigger a child’s emancipation and a number of factors may make your child eligible for voluntary emancipation.
If you find yourself considering emancipation on behalf of your child, it’s important to work with an experienced family law attorney to explore whether emancipation is the right choice for your family. To approach this situation with the goal of a successful outcome for everyone, here are a few considerations.
Why a parent might pursue their child’s emancipation
While every family’s situation is unique, parents who pursue their child’s emancipation typically do so because of a financial situation or concern, or that they are no longer in need of the support they previously received.
When children become emancipated, parents are no longer legally required to provide financial support. This can include more straightforward situations, such as child support. Other financial situations may include health insurance or college tuition, but they could also extend to no longer requiring that you include children as a beneficiary of your life insurance.
If a child becomes legally emancipated or financially independent before the agreed termination date, a supporting parent can file a motion to terminate their child support obligations.
If you believe your child has become financially independent and no longer requires support, even if they are still living with you, then it might be time to discuss emancipation with an experienced New Jersey family law attorney.
Is there a right moment to emancipate a child?
While many people assume that children are automatically emancipated when they turn eighteen or graduate from high school, this isn’t the case. Emancipation will always depend on the specific facts and circumstances of a child’s situation and focus on what is in the best interest of the child.
There is no age at which a child is “automatically emancipated” in New Jersey. Even though a child reaches the age of majority when they turn eighteen, being eighteen does not automatically emancipate them. That’s because emancipation is considered moving beyond the sphere of their parents’ influence. For example, if a child turns eighteen but is entering college or trade school, they would not necessarily be deemed ready to move beyond the sphere of their parents’ influence.
Other situations that might be grounds for considering emancipation include:
- Moving out of the parental home
- Gaining full-time employment
- Having a child
- Completing college or secondary schooling
Keep in mind that there are a few automatic “triggers” for child emancipation, such as:
- Enlistment in the military
- Their marriage
- Their death
It’s common for parents to have included, if they negotiated a Settlement Agreement at the time of their divorce or as part of a financial support arrangement, to include an emancipation provision. That provision may specify what events are triggering or automatic, or when an application can be made by either parent. It’s essential, if you’re considering an application, to check your Agreement for details on when and how you might do so.
It’s important to note that even if a child becomes emancipated, this does not excuse any accumulated arrears from unpaid child support.
How a child can become emancipated in New Jersey
If both parents agree to emancipate their child, they can sign a request to terminate any child support and submit it to the court. If only one parent wants to emancipate their child, then they can either negotiate the terms and enter into an agreement, or file an application where they must present their case to the court, ideally with guidance from legal counsel experienced in child emancipation.
If both parties cannot reach a resolution and one parent brings their case for child emancipation before the court, then the court can do one of three things:
- Dismiss your case if it does not believe that the motion presented sufficiently supports child emancipation
- Grant relief and allow for your child to become emancipated
- Order a plenary hearing focused on the issue of emancipation- , the judge may need further information to make a ruling and will review the case through exhibits and testimony and issue a final decision
When a child cannot be emancipated
A person seeking emancipation on any basis other than age must file a motion with the court and express their reasons for requesting emancipation. That said, there are some circumstances in which a court would generally not allow child emancipation.
For example, if the child is living outside of the home due to placement through the Division of Child Protection and Permanency in the Department of Children and Families (DCP&P), the court will not emancipate the child simply for residing elsewhere.
Furthermore, it’s important to note that there are special provisions for children with disabilities or special needs, as they may never be able to become financially independent.
Plan for your child’s future with Jacobs Berger
At Jacobs Berger, our experienced family law attorneys understand that each family is unique and that a plan that worked for your family in the past may no longer be a good fit for your health and well-being.
While child support laws in New Jersey can be complex and difficult to navigate, our firm approaches all family law matters with the aim of de-stressing the process for our clients. We work with clients to help them find solutions that meet their specific circumstances and address the unique needs of their families.
Contact our office today for a confidential and comprehensive strategic planning session to discuss child emancipation and see if it’s right for you.