A common false perception is that child support will always automatically stop when a child reaches the age of eighteen and no longer in school. Although that is currently the state of the law in New Jersey, that will soon change. A new law has been enacted in New Jersey that changes the rules. Under the new law, child support may not automatically terminate until a child reaches the age of nineteen. However, there are some important nuances to this law.
When a child reaches the age of eighteen and becomes financially independent, the paying parent or the parent receiving payment can file a petition with the court to emancipate the child. Emancipation will terminate the child support obligation. However, emancipation requires more than simply reaching the age of eighteen; it must also be demonstrated that the child is no longer within “the sphere of influence and control” of the parents, which usually requires that the child is financially independent.
There are also some occasions when child support may be ordered to continue past the age of nineteen. Under the new law, parent receiving child support will be able to request that support continue in certain circumstances. These circumstances include if the child is still in high school, is enrolled in full-time post-secondary education (i.e. college), or is somehow mentally or physically disabled.
The law also provides that although the child support will automatically terminate at the age of nineteen, the court can continue it in effect but not past the age of 23. The law also requires that if the custodial parent wishes to file a request to have support extend past the child’s nineteenth birthday, he or she must file this request before the child turns nineteen. The new law takes effect on February 1, 2017.
The best way to avoid future confusion or litigation over when a child support obligation ends is to specify the date in the final order of child support, whether that is included in a divorce, child custody case, or simply a child support case standing alone. If there is a provision already establishing, for example, that the parent paying support may automatically cease child support at the date the child graduates high school, that will simplify matters. Be aware, though, that such a provision will not strip the other parent of the right under the new law to petition the court to request that child support continue due to college or disability
Child support and abiding by a court’s orders can be confusing. Especially now when the law is changing, it is important to consult with an attorney about your rights and responsibilities. Call us today at (732) 479-4711 to make an appointment to discuss your particular order.