What is Emancipation?

Emancipation is a hot topic in New Jersey. Unlike many other states, there is no age or situation in which a child is automatically considered emancipated. Instead, emancipation is typically achieved when the parent paying child support files a motion to have the child emancipated.

NJ Emancipation

When is a Child Considered Emancipated?

There is no specific date or event that will determine emancipation. Instead, emancipation is dependent upon the particular circumstances of each and every case. In general, the question to be answered is whether or not the sphere of influence of the parent. Emancipation is presumed at age 18 however this presumption is rebuttable.  For example, a 19 year old child who attends college full time, still lives with the other parent and does not work will generally not be considered emancipated. On the other hand, a 19 year old who works full time and lives on his or her own will almost certainly be considered emancipated. These are two easy examples. The more difficult cases are those in between. For example, what about a 23 year old who is in his fifth year of a four year college program, lives in a dorm, and works part time. This case doesn’t have an easy answer and will depend on the details of the continued support provided by the parent of primary residence.  Additionally, factors such as ability to pay, family lifestyle, the parent’s educational background, and the child’s plans will become factors for a court to consider.

Another consideration that cannot be forgotten is the language of any divorce agreement or property settlement agreement that may exist. Often times the agreement will have some language regarding when a child is to be emancipated, how college expenses are to be paid, and other similar provisions. If the property settlement agreement defines emancipation then that definition will control the outcome. If the property settlement agreement is silent on the issue of emancipation then the case law and statutory law of New Jersey will control.

Physical or mental conditions can also have an impact on emancipation applications. In most cases, a rent has a legal obligation to pay child support for a child who has a physical or mental condition or disability.  In fact, there are cases in which a child with a severe disability may never be deemed emancipated.

Other situations in which emancipation is appropriate include the joining of the military and marriage.