Sussex County Emancipation Attorneys
There is considerable debate today as to when a person crosses the line from childhood to adulthood. Sometimes the threshold is at 18 years old, sometimes it is younger, and sometimes it is older. However, a line must be drawn somewhere, and in 2017, New Jersey lawmakers established the child support boundary at the age of 19. This means that a parent paying child support is only legally obligated to do so until his or child turns 19. However, there are so many exceptions to this rule, and these exceptions are so liberally construed, that it is rather unusual for child support to actually end at 19.
The experienced professionals at Hollander, Strelzik, Pasculli, Hinkes, Vandenberg & Hontz, L.L.C. routinely handle family law matters in Sussex County and throughout Northern New Jersey. So, in addition to aggressive advocacy, we offer solid legal advice that helps you navigate the intricacies of New Jersey family law. Our mission is to give you the tools you need to make the best possible decisions throughout your legal process, then we help you tenaciously carry out that plan in court.
The 2017 Law
Before 2016, New Jersey child support obligations ended when a child turned 18 or when he or she moved beyond the custodial parents’ sphere of influence, an amorphous term that occasioned considerable litigation. Now, child support ends at age 19 unless the custodial parent files a request for extension prior to the child’s 19th birthday. The major exceptions, as outlined below, are:
- Contrary language in the divorce order
- Enrollment in high school
- Mental or physical disability
- Full-time enrollment in a postsecondary education program.
Even if the court permits an extension, child support terminates by operation of law when the child turns 23. The judge may authorize further payment of financial support in a few cases, such as those involving a child with a permanent disability, but this financial assistance is not enforceable as child support.
Procedurally, noncustodial parents can probably stop paying support for their child after the child turns 19, unless these parents are fairly certain that an exception applies. Typically, continuation orders are retroactive, so if the noncustodial parent stopped paying child support and the judge grants an extension, the NCP may need to deal with an unexpected child support arrearage.
Many divorce and modification orders either contain reserve clauses, which basically say that child support for older teens and younger twentysomethings will be revisited later, or a provision that says that support stops when the child reaches age 22, receives an undergraduate degree, or reaches a similar milestone.
If these agreements are contained in the court’s official paperwork, then they are enforceable. However, if the parents made informal “side agreements,” these pacts are generally not enforceable in family court, even if they are signed by both parties.
Continued High School Enrollment
Many children repeat a grade, are home schooled at a slower pace, temporarily dropped out and then returned to school, or follow an alternative curriculum, such as one offered by an online institution. The requesting parent, who is nearly always the custodial parent, has the burden of proof in extension matters. So, the custodial parent must provide evidence that the child is still in high school and has been reasonably diligent in trying to obtain a degree in order to achieve an extension of child support payments from the noncustodial spouse.
Mental or Physical Disability
There are two major components to this extension. First, the child must have a recognized disability. That usually means that the Social Security Administration, or a similar state or federal agency, has declared that the child is disabled. This disability must have begun before the child turned 19.
Second, the disability must be so severe that the child is incapable of self support. That means that not only can the child not work at any job that meets his or her qualifications and would provide enough money to live above the poverty line, but also that the disability must be so severe that it regularly interferes with the child’s everyday life functions.
For example, a bad back is disabling for child support purposes if the pain is so bad that the child cannot work and cannot function without heavy doses of strong pain medication on a daily basis.
For child support to continue after divorce from ages 19 to 23, the child must be enrolled as a full-time student for at least ten months out of the year, a timeframe that usually means both the spring and fall semesters.
College is nearly always a significant financial expense for parents, both in terms of direct costs (tuition and fees) and ancillary costs (living expenses). In New Jersey, parents have a legal duty to contribute to their children’s’ postsecondary educations, based on a number of factors that include:
- The amount of money the child needs
- Financial resources of both parents
- Suitability of the child’s selected institution
- Availability of financial aid
- The child’s long-term goals.
As for direct costs, most New Jersey courts follow the 1968 Rutgers Rule, which states that a noncustodial parent’s financial contributions are capped at the cost of in-state tuition at a New Jersey secondary school. There is no such rule regarding indirect costs, which is why these questions are frequently litigated. For example, some students do well in a private dormitory room, while some do well with several roommates, and some do well in private off-campus apartments with or without roommates. When parents cannot agree on what expenses should be covered by their child support agreement, the courts often have to intervene.
Reach Out to Experienced Attorneys
The law regarding emancipation and child support payments might be a little simpler than it was before, but it is still quite complex. For a free consultation with an experienced family law attorney in Sussex County, contact Hollander, Strelzik, Pasculli, Hinkes, Vandenberg & Hontz, L.L.C. Convenient payment plans are available.