The number of college graduates living with their parents has almost doubled since 2007. Currently, over 45% of 26-year-olds live at home with their parents. The figures highlight the difficulty that many young Americans have had in establishing careers following the longest recession this country has faced since the Great Depression. Some children, although employed, simply lack the funds to move out and may remain with their parents, even well into their twenties.
As a Matrimonial Attorney, these staggering statistics present an interesting question as to a non-custodian’s obligation to continue contributing to the support of a child, though a college graduate and/or employed, is still ostensibly supported by his or her parents; at least with regard to shelter expenses.
In New Jersey, a parent is under no duty to contribute to the support of an emancipated child. In deciding whether to emancipate a child, a Court will generally examine whether the child has “moved beyond the sphere of parental influence.” When 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. As mentioned above, a curious situation presents itself where the child should be self-supporting, but the economy prevents him or her from obtaining lucrative employment.
A similar, yet instructive, situation was the topic of a recent (unreported) decision by the Appellate Division in Gall v. Gall. In Gall, the parties’ son, Brian, lived at home and intended to enroll as a full time student in the future. He worked full time, paid for his personal expenses including gasoline, clothes and food outside the home. However, his earnings were insufficient to allow him to move out of his mother’s home.
The trial court declined to emancipate Brian and awarded child support pursuant to the Child Support Guidelines. In addition, the non-custodial father was required to contribute toward Brian’s college expenses. The non-custodial father appealed.
While the Appellate Division “agree[d] in theory that a full-time college student is not emancipated as there is no ‘fixed age’ for emancipation…” it further found that because Brian was employed full-time and was only a part-time student, he should have been deemed emancipated. As a result, the Court reversed the order of child support as to Brian. In doing so, the Appellate Division set forth a bright line (although non-precedential) rule of thumb: “…a child over the age of eighteen, working full-time, and attending school only part-time, absent some unusual circumstances…is emancipated even if residing with a parent because his or her employment income is alleged to be insufficient to allow the child to live independently.”