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When Does Child Support End?

A recurring question for the family law attorney is, “When does child support end?”  The quick answer is, “Upon the child’s emancipation”.  So, what is the age of emancipation?  There is no fixed age in New Jersey when child support stops. Parents are required to contribute to the basic support needs of an unemancipated child to the extent of the parents’ financial abilities. 

Emancipation of a child occurs when the fundamental dependent relationship between parent and child is concluded.  Generally, emancipation can occur upon the reaching of eighteen (18) years and the earliest occurrence of the following events:

(a) The child’s graduation from a four (4) year undergraduate college program or comparable vocational program;

(b) Graduation from high school or vocational school or voluntary withdrawal or expulsion from these schools. 

(c)  Full-time employment other than summer employment;

(d) Military service; or

(e) Attainment of financial independence and self-sufficiency.

Support may terminate automatically if there is an agreement between the parties or a Court Order that specifies a date, age or circumstance when child support stops.  In most cases, a party is required to file an application with the Court seeking termination of child support based upon a child’s emancipation.  Some cases require that child support continue through graduate school or beyond a period of four (4) years if the child remains in college.  Also, there are cases involving children who take a leave of absence from college and the Courts are required to analyze whether or not child support shall continue or be reinstated upon re-entry into college.  Some cases require child support be extended if a child is physically or emotionally disabled and/or exhibits special needs.  All of these issues are fact-sensitive and should be analyzed carefully by a family law attorney.

New Jersey Child Support Guidelines must be used to establish and modify all child support orders, unless special circumstances exist warranting a deviation from the guidelines.  These issues should also be considered when entering into a Marital Settlement Agreement so that parties may avoid expensive post-judgment litigation.

Emancipation is a fact-sensitive issue and it is the demonstrable needs of the child, not the child’s age that is determinative of the duty of child support.  The essential inquiry is whether the child has moved beyond the sphere of influence and responsibility exercised by a parent and has obtained an independent status of his or her own.  The inquiry by the family law attorney involves the evaluation of prevailing circumstances including the child’s needs, interest and independent resources, family’s reasonable expectations and the parties’ financial ability. 

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