Child Support Obligations Terminate Upon Emancipation

Jun 23, 2017

In New Jersey, a child can be legally emancipated when the fundamental dependent relationship between the parent and child is concluded, and the parties’ obligation to pay any child support terminates with the emancipation. Gac v. Gac, 186 N.J. 535, 542 (2006). The inquiry of whether a child is emancipated hinges upon a finding that the child has moved outside the “sphere of influence” of the parents and has obtained an independent status of his or her own. Dolce v. Dolce, 383 N.J. Super. 11, 17-18 (App. Div. 2006). Such a finding must account for an evaluation of the child’s needs, interests, the family’s reasonable expectations, and the parties’ ability to pay, among other things. Id. at 18.

Wernega v. Volpa is a recent case involving an appeal to terminate child support for the parties’ emancipated son. There, the ex-wife (“Plaintiff”) appealed from a post-judgment matrimonial order that, among other things, emancipated the parties’ son and required her to contribute to the continuing cost of health insurance premiums that her ex-husband (“Defendant”) continues to pay. The order also required Plaintiff to reimburse Defendant for child support he overpaid past the date of emancipation. 

The parties divorced back in 1994 and entered into a Property Settlement Agreement (“PSA”) that included the following: (1) Plaintiff would be designated as the primary residential custodial parent; (2) Defendant would pay $575 per week in child support until the children’s emancipation; and (3) Defendant would continue providing health coverage for the children with the parties equally sharing the cost of uninsured medical expenses. 

In 2011, Defendant successfully moved to be the parent of primary residence of the parties’ daughter and was able to reduce his child support obligation to $177 per week. In 2014, he successfully moved to be the parent of primary residence for the parties’ son, and the court established a child support obligation for Plaintiff of $50 per week, including an equal share of college expenses and health insurance premiums.

Plaintiff then sought to emancipate the parties’ son and terminate her child support obligation because he son was 23 years old and graduating from college. The trial court granted her motion for both, but required that she pay twenty percent of the amount she pays for the son’s health care; $1,175.22 for Defendant’s overpayment of child support; and $4,415 in unpaid college expenses. 

On appeal, Plaintiff contends that she shouldn’t have to pay health insurance because it’s a part of child support that was terminated. The Appellate Division ultimately reversed the trial court on the issue of health insurance reimbursement, holding that nothing compels a parent to provide any support for a child who is deemed emancipated. The Appellate Division also found no abuse of discretion in the trial court ordering that Plaintiff pay back Defendant’s overpayment of child support.

If you have any questions regarding emancipation or child support obligations, contact the skilled matrimonial attorneys at Sarno da Costa D’Aniello Maceri LLCCall us today at (973) 274-5200