At first glance, it might appear easy to discern when children become emancipated. After all, at eighteen, young people are granted the right to vote and serve our country. Learn how this standard applies in family court matters.
What is Emancipation?
Black’s Law Dictionary formally defines emancipation as “the act by which one who was unfree or under the power and control of another, is set at liberty…” Admittedly, some children might balk to learn they are under their parents’ power and control. With the legal authority, also comes obligations and duties. The most obvious one is parental responsibility to support non-emancipated offspring.
New Jersey considers the age of legal majority to start after an individual reaches age eighteen. However, being of legal age does not necessarily constitute emancipation. For example, a child with significant disabilities may never become emancipated. Even after the age of legal majority, they may be considered reliant on their parents.
Emancipation in Family Law
Emancipation is a very important issue in family court, particularly as it pertains to child support. In litigated matters, the judge may spell out the terms of emancipation. Most property settlement agreements contain emancipation language.
There are circumstances when children can become emancipated before their eighteen birthday. These include:
- Child’s marriage
- Court order granting emancipation
- Entry into the military
Children do not necessarily become emancipated because they become parents themselves. This is particularly relevant when they are not married and continue to live with one of their parents. Likewise, minor children who do not reside with either parent, are not necessarily emancipated.
Child Support and Emancipation
Unless otherwise directed by the court, parents are required to pay child support until the child is deemed emancipated. It may be necessary to motion the court to set the date of emancipation. Even when there is language in the property settlement agreement regarding emancipation, it may be appropriate to seek judicial intervention.
The New Jersey Appellate Division recently dealt with the emancipation issue in Dripps v. Dripps, App Div. The Dripps’ settlement agreement defined emancipation to occur when …”a child reached the age of eighteen or graduated from high school unless the child was continually enrolled full-time in college or vocational school, in which circumstances, emancipation would occur upon graduation from college or school or five years from the date of high school graduation, whichever was earlier. .. Child support would not continue if the child had reached the age of twenty-three years unless the child was unable to work due to illness, injury or disability.”
Both children dropped out of college. The son was twenty-three; the daughter was twenty-two. The daughter suffered from emotional problems, but held a full-time job. The court ruled that both children were deemed emancipated. This was despite claims that the latter child was dysfunctional.