Article by Daniel A. Levy, Esq.

As part of my Family Law practice, I am often asked by clients about child support issues. Previously, I wrote about the question of whether or not a lawyer is needed for a child support motion and about the basic question of how a person can lower their child support payments. But one of the questions that I am often faced with is the question about whether or not child support will automatically end at a certain time.

For some reason, many parents believe that once a child turns 18, or once they graduate high school or college, the child support will automatically end. This is not the case. Under present New Jersey law, there is no specific point when child support will automatically end. The parent who is paying child support will normally have to file a motion with the court to emancipate the child and terminate the child support. Sometimes, the probation department will send a letter to the parents and ask if they want to emancipate, and if appropriate, then probation will make the application.

The court will grant this once the child is no longer “under the parent’s sphere of influence and control” – or in other words, when the child is no longer a child but has become an adult. This is a fact-specific question. Courts will not emancipate children who graduated high school and went on to become full-time college students. But they will emancipate if the child graduated high school and entered the work force, or became a parent, or simply left high school before graduation and moved out and got a job. But in any event, there is no specific trigger that stops the child support without filing an application.

However, this may all change soon as there is a proposed law that is presently pending in the New Jersey legislature. On July 23, 2015, S1046 was approved by the New Jersey Senate and this law states that child support will automatically terminate at age 19, unless: another age for termination is specified in an existing court order; the parents and a judge agree that support can continue until another predetermined date; a judge agrees to order continued support based on an application filed by a parent or guardian of the child; or the support recipient is in out-of-home placement through the Division of Child Protection and Permanency. In other words, the support ends at that time unless someone makes an application to have it continue.

This is a welcome change, which I believe will add more fairness to the system. Many parents are completely unaware that they must make an application to emancipate. And I have seen cases where the support will continue to accrue for years into the “child’s” adulthood – sometimes it is so extreme that the “child” is actually in their 30’s and one parent is still receiving child support. To me, it makes more sense that the parent receiving the support should have to ask that it continue because that parent generally will be in the better position to show that the child support is still appropriate. But for now, this bill is not yet law and we will continue to monitor its progress through the legislature.