A parent’s duty to support a child continues until the child is emancipated.  Emancipation is a legal concept and has been defined as when a parent no longer has the duty to support a child, such as reaching the age of majority.  However, a child attending post-high school education or trade school will delay emancipation and continue the parents’ duty to support the child. When a child is emancipated, the parent or parents relinquish the right to custody and is relieved of the burden of support, and the child is no longer entitled to support.” However, a child’s right to support is also not “defeated merely because both parents are united in their determination to declare the child emancipated.”

Once a child reaches the age of majority, now eighteen years old, pursuant to N.J.S.A. 9:17B-3, a parent has established a “prima facie,” but not a conclusive proof of emancipation. Once the presumption is established, the burden of proof to rebut the statutory presumption of emancipation shifts to the party or child seeking to continue the support obligation. The presumption of emancipation may be overcome by evidence that a dependent relationship with the parents continues because of the needs of the child. Dolce[1], supra, 383 N.J. Super. at 18. Id. at 216.

The benchmark case which sets forth the legal criteria for emancipation is Newburgh v. Arrigo, 88 NJ 529 (1982), which was a wrongful death case.  In Newburgh, Melvin Newburgh died in an automobile accident. The owner of the vehicle was insured by Arrigo.  Melvin’s second wife, Joan, received the wrongful death settlement of $100,000.  Melvin’s son from the first marriage, Steven, contested Melvin’s marriage to Joan, because Melvin’s divorce from Steven’s mother, was an uncontested divorce in Mexico, and therefore, Steven argued that Melvin’s marriage to Joan was invalid.  The trial Court denied Steven’s argument, and awarded Steven 20% and Joan 80%.  The Appellate Court reversed the trial court, and the Supreme Court granted certification, and set forth the 14 factors to be considered by the trial court in reconsideration of the distributive shares.

In evaluating the claim for contribution toward the cost of higher education, courts should consider all relevant factors, including (1) whether the parent, if still living with the child, would have contributed toward the costs of the requested higher education; (2) the effect of the background, values and goals of the parent on the reasonableness of the expectation of the child for higher education; (3) the amount of the contribution sought by the child for the cost of higher education; (4) the ability of the parent to pay that cost; (5) the relationship of the requested contribution to the kind of school or course of study sought by the child; (6) the financial resources of both parents; (7) the commitment to and aptitude of the child for the requested education; (8) the financial resources of the child, including assets owned individually or held in custodianship or trust; (9) the ability of the child to earn income during the school year or on vacation; (10) the availability of financial aid in the form of college grants and loans; (11) the child’s relationship to the paying parent, including mutual affection and shared goals as well as responsiveness to parental advice and guidance; and (12) the relationship of the education requested to any prior training and to the overall long-range goals of the child.

On February 1, 2017, N.J.S.A. 2A:17-56.67 became effective, and provides  that obligation to pay child support terminates on the date that the child marries, dies, or enters the military service.  The statute further provides that child support terminates upon the child reaching the age of 23, and earlier at 19 unless the parent receiving support notifies the probation department in writing that the child is in high school, secondary education full time during some part of each of any five calendar months, or the child has a physical or mental disability that existed before the child reached the age of 19.

While the language of the statute states that the child support obligation terminates upon the child reaching the age of 23, the support obligation may continue as financial maintenance.  The statute is to control the number of cases in the probation department, and support can and does extend beyond the age of 23, as “financial maintenance.”  N.J.S.A. 2A:17-56.67 is as follows:

Child support arrears that had accumulated prior to the age of emancipation shall continue to be collected and paid to the obligee.  However, child support arrears that had accumulated beyond the age of emancipation shall be cancelled.

[1] Dolce v. Dolce, 383 N.J. Super. 11 (App. Div. 2006)