A child is considered an adult when he or she reaches the age of majority, which in New Jersey is 18. In the eyes of the law, an adult individual has certain rights, such as the right to vote, get married, and agree to legally binding contracts for employment, bank loans, etc. Being considered an adult, however, does not mean being fully independent from one's parents. Most children, after all, are at least somewhat dependent on their parents while they attend college and/or graduate school. Even after college, the high cost of housing and basic necessities make it difficult for young adults to achieve complete financial independence.
Nevertheless, there is a general expectation for young adults to cover most or all of their own expenses, even if they still live with their parents. This expectation often leads to conflict between parents and children of divorce, who may have different ideas on when child support should end. Under the current laws, your child support order can specify an age, date, or circumstance for ending/ modifying child support. Without written details in your support order, child support cannot be automatically terminated when a child turns 18. Parents can, however, petition the courts for an adjustment or termination if there is compelling reason to do so. What parents are essentially doing here is asking the courts to “emancipate” their adult child, which would in turn, disqualify them from receiving child support.
Emancipation is a complex legal concept because it goes far beyond being a certain age. Legal emancipation, whether requested by the child or parent, requires a triggering event such as working full-time, moving out of the family home, getting married, or joining the armed forces. Even upon proving a qualifying circumstance, the court may examine a variety of other factors such as the child's interests, academic potential, and the parent's ability to provide continued support. Consideration is given to the parent as well; a child's voluntary estrangement from the parent or continued lack of respect for the parent's rules or beliefs may play a part in denying a motion for continued support.
It should be noted that on January 19, 2016, Governor Christie signed a bill that would end child support at the age of 19, with very few exceptions. The bill does allow the courts to extend child support at their discretion, but the new order would need to specify “a future date upon which the child support obligation will terminate or a date upon which the court will review the circumstances of the parties and children.” This provision honors the best interests standard, which dictates that the child's best interests must be the focal point of any child-related legal action. For children who are technically adults, these interests must be weighed against what the parents should, and/or can reasonably support. For more information on your child support rights and obligations, please speak with the family law attorneys of Villani & DeLuca, P.C.