If a child enlists in the armed forces, they become emancipated pursuant to New Jersey law. However, some enlist in the National Guard with non-full-time military status. Once enlisting in the National Guard, boot-camp of several weeks follows but once boot camp has been completed, service is most likely limited to weekend service once per month. Many young people who enlist in the National Guard will attend college once boot camp is completed. Is a child emancipated if he or she enlists in the Army National Guard?
New Jersey courts have consistently held that the “[d]etermination of whether a child is emancipated for child support purposes is a fact-sensitive inquiry that involves a critical evaluation of the prevailing circumstances including the child’s need, interests, and independent resources, the family’s reasonable expectations, and the parties’ financial ability, among other things.”Tretola v. Tretola, 389 N.J. Super. 15 (App. Div. 2006). A child will normally be deemed to have “move[d] beyond the sphere of influence and responsibility exercised by a parent” when they enter the military. Bishop v. Bishop, 287 N.J. Super. 593, 598 (App. Div. 1995). Parents will remain obligated to pay child support however, when the child is enrolled in a full-time undergraduate program, regardless of chronological age. See Limpert v. Limpert, 119 N.J. Super. 438 (App. Div. 1972).
The reported case in New Jersey most analogous to entrance into the Army National Guard had to do with a 20 year old child who enrolled in the West Point Military Academy. See Bishop, 287 N.J. Super. 593. In determining the child was emancipated, the court placed a good deal of emphasis on the fact that West Point cadets are in many ways considered part of the regular army. They are deemed on “active duty” by federal law, they receive extensive and continuous training from commissioned officers, and “most significantly, . . . their time is rigidly structured and free time is minimal.” Id. at 600. The court also noted that tuition, room and board, “all of his educational needs and virtually all of his material requirements” are provided for by the school. Id. at 649. The court attached little importance to the mother’s assertion that she maintained her home to accommodate her son’s periodic visits, concluding that “upon his appointment to and enrollment in West Point as a cadet, plaintiff relinquished any remaining control and responsibility over her son.”
Accordingly, one may argue that if a child is not registered to attend college, has enlisted in the National Guard and will be attending boot camp, that the child is emancipated. However, upon the child’s return from boot camp, depending upon whether they register in college full-time and reside with a parent, the child may become “unemancipated” and child support may be reviewed and ordered. Notably, as part of the child support determination in these types of cases, the Court will also consider the benefits received by the child as a result of serving in the National Guard. For example, the Court will have to inquire if the child will be receiving a stipend for college costs, income for weekend service or any other benefits that would impact or serve to reduce or terminate the child support obligation and/or college contribution obligation. Simply put, the Court will have to determine whether or not the child has “moved[d] beyond the sphere of influence and responsibility exercised” by the parent as a result of enlisting in the National Guard.