Peter Banfe is a Moorestown resident and an attorney in the Family & Matrimonial Services Department of Archer & Greiner P.C. in Haddonfield, where he concentrates his practice in all areas of family law including divorce, alimony, child support, equitable distribution, custody, parenting time, prenuptial agreements, domestic violence and college contribution issues in both pre-judgment and post-judgment matters. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 856-857-2795.
Q. My wife and I were divorced in New Jersey and I am obligated to pay child support for our son. When can I expect my child support obligation will end?
A. If you were divorced in the State of New Jersey, the obligation to pay child support arose either by a decision of the Family Court if your case was not settled, or, more likely, by way of an agreement between you and your former spouse. You and your attorney, if you have one, should review this agreement, generally called a property settlement agreement or matrimonial settlement agreement, as it very well may spell out the answer to this question or at least provide guidance.
In the absence of an agreement or court decision, the general rule of thumb is that child support continues until a child becomes “emancipated.” A child of divorced parents is deemed emancipated when he or she is considered to be outside the sphere of the parents’ influence, such as if a child were to become a full-time member of the military or got married. A child’s death would also end the support obligation.
Otherwise, there is a presumption that the emancipation of a child of divorced parents in New Jersey occurs at age 18. However, this presumption can and, in fact, usually is overcome if a child continues his or her post-secondary education by attending a college, university or trade school. If a child goes on to continue his or her uninterrupted post-secondary education, this can give rise to what is referred to in the law as a “change of circumstances” that warrants reviewing child support to determine whether it should be modified in some way. It will likely delay the child’s emancipation, as New Jersey courts may presume the child still requires support while he or she is finishing their undergraduate education. Oftentimes, it is appropriate to modify child support because divorced parents may also then be expected to contribute to the costs of the child’s higher education as well. There are a number of financial and non-financial considerations that must then be looked at in determining what amount of child support is appropriate while the child completes his or her post-secondary education.
Although there are additional emancipation exceptions, a good rule of thumb in this scenario would be the child support obligation would continue and the child’s emancipation would then be delayed until that child graduates from his or her post-secondary undergraduate institution.
It is advisable to discuss these child support emancipation and college contribution issues with an attorney both at the time that you are contemplating divorce and at the time a decision is being made about a child’s continuing education plans after high school, so all of these financial issues can be thoughtfully addressed at one time, in advance of the child commencing his or her post-secondary education.
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