For years, many clients have been perplexed why they are required to pay child support for their “adult” children. In 48 of 50 states, there has been an automatic termination of child support at a specific age, usually age 18. This has not been the case in New Jersey, however, to the chagrin of many child support payors and many legislators (similar bills have been introduced in the Senate in every session since 2002!).
I have heard of cases being paid through Probation (either direct pay or via wage garnishment) which has continued until the child was as old as 35, working full-time, married, and with children, solely because the child support payor did not have the wherewithal to file the appropriate application with the Court to terminate the child support order.
Fortunately for those child support payors, this scenario has become a thing of the past since the governor signed A-2127/S-1046 into law on January 19, 2016.
This new law, which took effect on February 1, 2017, establishes age 19 as the automatic date when a child support obligation in New Jersey will terminate. The law also codifies the common law rule that child support will terminate, without a court order, if a child marries, dies, or enters the military service. This law applies to all child support orders and applies to both child support and medical obligations. The new statutes can be found at N.J.S.A. 2A:17-56.67 through N.J.S.A. 2A:17-56.72.
While the statute does call for automatic termination, custodial parents still have the right to object under certain circumstances, namely if the child is in high school, attending college or post-secondary education full-time, or is disabled. Parties are still free to consent to a termination date other than age 19. However, child support may not exceed age 23 under any circumstances.
What does this mean for a child support payor?
If you are paying your child support obligation through Probation, then you and the child support recipient will begin receiving notices about the proposed child support obligation termination. If no response is received to these notices, then child support will terminate automatically on the child’s 19th birthday, provided that the child turns 19 after the effective date of the law (2/1/2017).
What does this mean for a child support recipient?
If you are receiving child support through Probation, you will also begin receiving notices about the proposed child support obligation termination. However, if you believe that your child should not be emancipated based upon one of the exceptions as listed above and in the statute, you must respond, in writing, objecting to the automatic termination and providing proof of the exceptional circumstance which makes termination objectionable. The Probation department will administratively determine whether or not child support should be continued.
If you have a Court Order or agreement which defines the terms of your child support obligation, and termination events, then you will be issued a notice from Probation 90 days prior to the termination date in your Order or Agreement.
Does this mean my child is emancipated?
One of the most confusing parts of this law is how it may impact emancipation. Make no mistake – this is not an emancipation statute. While emancipation usually terminates all support provisions in a case, termination of child support pursuant to the statute does not equal emancipation of a child. This just begs the question - what obligations remain when child support and medical support are terminated, but a child is not emancipated? Since the law has only just been enacted, and there are no cases to set a precedent, this is going to be an evolving area that we’ll be following as it develops. While a child support obligation is terminated, there may still be an obligation to contribute to other expenses which fall outside of the guidelines and outside of Probation, like educational expenses or car insurance. A child who is beyond 23 may seek a court order requiring payment of other forms of financial maintenance or reimbursement from a parent to the extent authorized by law that is NOT child support. N.J.S.A. 2A:17-56.67(e)(1). A child or parent may apply to the court to convert a child support obligation to another form of financial maintenance due to exceptional circumstances for a child who has reached age 23. N.J.S.A. 2A:17-56.67(e)(2). There will be no obligation to provide medical insurance coverage for the child, unless your Marital Settlement Agreement or Judgment of Divorce states otherwise. I’m interested to see how this area evolves as new terminations under the statute begin take place.
There are many different facets to the new statute; consider the above just the highlights. The family law attorneys at Hoagland, Longo, Moran, Dunst & Doukas, LLP are fully informed and can assist you in understanding the intricacies of this new law, or any others, that will impact you and your family. Should you have any questions or wish to schedule a free initial consultation, please do not hesitate to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 732-545-4717.