Depends. If you are still married, emancipation occurs when you and your spouse decide that it is time for your child to stand on his / her own. But, if you are divorced, even if a settlement agreement says that emancipation occurs at 18 or upon graduation from high school, a judge still has the right to override the terms of that agreement and continue an obligation for support upon parents for that child.
In New Jersey, the legal standard for emancipation is "[w]hen a child moves beyond the sphere of influence and responsibility exercised by a parent and obtains an independent status on his or her own, generally he or she will be deemed emancipated." Bishop v. Bishop, 287 N.J. Super. 593, 598 (Ch. Div. 1995). Translated...... if your child decides to continue with his / her education ( including college or trade schools), the court has the right to say that parents have the obligation to assist their children in those endeavors and continue to financially support them by the payment of the cost of the program, direct weekly support, health care costs and so on and so on.
Oddly enough, becoming pregnant or having a baby does not automatically lead to emancipation either, so long as the child is having the baby is still relying on parental support, pursuing her education, etc. Similarly, a disabled child who requires on-going support beyond the age of eighteen is unlikely to be deemed emancipated by a court.
The most common fight in our courts today in this area is where one parent together with the child select a college or trade school without agreement from the other parent but with the expectation that the other parent will pay for all or a portion of the cost associated with it along with continued weekly support, etc. In that setting, the court is required to examine the Newburgh v. Arrigo criteria to determine whether to impose an obligation of continued support upon that parent. See Newburgh v. Arrigo, 88 N.J. 529, 545 (1982).
As an example, several years ago, I handled a matter where the son over his father's vehement objection enrolled in a $45,000.00 per year college program instead of a state school at less than half that amount simply because the son did not think that he would be able to make the state school’s lacrosse team. The fathers view was that he did not think that he should have to pay out an extra 100,000.00 in college costs simply so that his son could have fun at school playing lacrosse. Unfortunately simply because the selection of schools was without the fathers approval did not mean that the father was off the hook. It simply meant that the court was forced to review the criteria to determine whether the court was still going to impose the obligation upon the father in whole or in part.
The decision as to whether a child is emancipated at a particular date is fact sensitive, but suffice it to say that in New Jersey, where a child expresses an interest in pursuing higher education, our judiciary is inclined to continue an imposition of a financial obligation upon parents to afford their children that opportunity...... even if the parents are forced to borrow to accomplish it.
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