Ricci v. Ricci - Emancipation

Child support orders are entered in almost every case involving a custody issue. New Jersey uses a specific formula to set child support, using particular numbers including the parents' incomes less certain allowed expenses. Moreover, New Jersey recognizes the importance of a college education, and the law makes provision for child support to continue in order to support the child while he or she completes higher education. In a recent case called Ricci v. Ricci, the Appellate Court considered a case involving a child wishing to have her college expenses paid for by her parents.

In this case, the parties were divorced, and a child support order was entered. When the child was 19, she moved in with the paternal grandparents. The parents executed a consent order terminating the child support obligation. The daughter then sought to force her parents to pay for the cost of community college. In 2013, a judge granted the daughter's request, which was approximately $2,000 per year in tuition. However, the daughter then decided to transfer to another, much more expensive university, and sought to have her parents be responsible for the dramatically increased cost. A new judge looked to the old order and determined that the parents were obligated to pay the increased amount under the provisions of the 2013 order. The trial court did not conduct a hearing to determine the parents' ability to pay the increased tuition cost. The parents then appealed that decision.

On appeal, the parents pointed out that the daughter voluntarily left the home to move in with the paternal grandparents. The daughter, however, claimed that it was actually her parents who kicked her out of the home and she was forced to leave. The Appellate Court recognized that once a child is emancipated, that there can be no child support obligation. The Court stated that once a child reaches the age of majority, a court must determine whether a child remains unemancipated. Although a child has the right to govern his or her own life, taking those sorts of steps could mean the child is emancipated and the parents would no longer have the obligation to support the child. Ultimately the Appellate Court returned the matter to the trial court to have a hearing to first decide if the child is emancipated, and if not, whether the parents actually had the ability to pay the tuition at the more expensive university.

It is essential that all parties understand their rights and responsibilities when it comes to child support and college expenses. We have experience in helping clients understand their obligations. Call us today at (732) 529-6937 to talk about your case.

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