Emancipation Reform Bill Has Passed the New Jersey Senate. On July 23, the New Jersey Senate approved a bill that automatically terminates child support by operation of law, without court order, when a child reaches the age of 19. The bill does provide for circumstances wherein the receiver of child support may seek an extension. This bill switches the burden of proof with respect to emancipation from the payor of child support to the payee.

Under current law, a payor of child support pays support until the child is emancipated. Generally, a child is emancipated when he/she reaches the age of 18 or graduates from high school, whichever is later, unless he/she goes on to a college or other post-secondary educational institution on a full time basis. Under that scenario, child support continues until the child graduates from college or completes their post-secondary education within a reasonable amount of time. There are other indicia of emancipation such as marriage, full-time employment or entry into the armed forces, wherein the payor of child support may request termination of his/her obligation.

Under this new bill, child support would automatically terminate when the child reaches the age of 19 unless (1) another age for termination of the obligation is set forth in a court order; (2) the parents consent to a continuation of child support until a further date; or (3) the court extends the obligation based on an application or motion filed by the parent or child before the child turns 19. The circumstances under which a parent or child may petition the court for an extension of child support are if (1) the child is still in high school or other secondary educational program; (2) the child is enrolled on a full time basis in college or other post-secondary educational program; (3) the child has a physical or mental disability that existed prior to the child turning 19; or (4) other exceptional circumstances.

In practical terms, if you have a child who is 19 years old and a freshman in college, child support will automatically terminate upon that child reaching the age of 19 unless the receiver of child support files a motion to request an extension due to the child’s full-time enrollment in a college.

If the court signs an order extending child support, the order is to include a termination date or a date when the court will review the circumstances of the parties and child(ren).

This bill must still be passed by the Assembly and signed by the governor in order to become law.

Maria P. Imbalzano is a Shareholder and member of Stark & Stark’s Family Law Group. She concentrates her practice in divorce, custody, adoption and family law mediation. She is certified by the Supreme Court of New Jersey as a Matrimonial Law Attorney and is a court-approved family law mediator. She has also been trained and participates in collaborative divorce law. www.stark-stark.com.

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