There have been several major changes to the matrimonial laws in New Jersey within the past four years, including the Alimony Reform Act and the Premarital Agreement Act. The latest piece of matrimonial legislation signed into law by Governor Christie is the Termination of Child Support law, which became effective as of February 1, 2017. Prior to this law, there was no age at which child support would automatically terminate. Instead, parents had to request that child support be reduced or terminated based on the child achieving emancipation through circumstances such as marriage or military service.
This law is actually an addition to the existing emancipation statutes, but is is nonetheless very important -- and controversial -- to specify that child support should generally end at age 19. From that point on, the supported spouse or child would need to file a request to continue support, and the paying spouse would have the right to file an opposing application. In order to simplify the process, the request for continued support would be made through an application from the Administrative Offices of the Court. This is different than most other child support actions, which must be filed as a motion. Furthermore, the application to continue support must be predicated on one of the following: 1) the child is still in high school, or is enrolled in some other form of secondary education; 2) the child has been in some form of post-secondary education full time in the last five months; 3) the child has a disability.
The law does not include a general category of "other reasons", which has traditionally been the case with other child support statutes and additions. Hence, one would have to assume that as of now, there are no exceptions to the termination of child support at age 19 unless the child meets one of the aforementioned conditions. Even with these qualifying reasons, the law stipulates that child support cannot be extended beyond the age of 23. This provision has understandably been upsetting to parents of children with disabilities, or those who wish to pursue higher levels of post-secondary education such as graduate school. The law, however, does clarify that children aged 23 or older can seek other forms of financial support from their parents -- just not child support. Disabled children, in particular, would most likely need some form of financial assistance for the rest of their lives, but it would be up to the courts to make the final determination.
If you are a parent who is receiving child support, it's imperative to learn about these changes and how they will affect your child in the future. Please be aware that the law applies to all existing child support orders and judgments, not just to the ones that were filed before the effective date of February 1, 2017. For more information on your child support rights and legal options, please speak with the family law attorneys of Villani & DeLuca, P.C.