We know that children are dependent on their parents for longer than ever before – sometimes well into their twenties. As I stated in an earlier blog post on this issue, which can be found here, currently, over 45% of 26-year-olds live at home with their parents. Many of these young adults have graduated from college and experience difficulty establishing careers during the recession. Historically, Courts have decided that if the child is no longer a college student, he or she should be emancipated. But what about when a child enters college and just never graduates? Does he or she receive child support indefinitely? Enter the “perpetual college student” (those who saw National Lampoon’s Van Wilder may better understand the reference…).
This exact situation was confronted in the unpublished (non-precedential) decision of Wesley v. Noor. In that case, the child entered Cumberland County College to obtain his associate’s degree in the Fall of 2008. In March 2011, the non-custodial father filed a motion for emancipation and termination of child support based on his belief that the child had not been enrolled as a full-time student since December of 2010. In response, the Plaintiff asserted that the child was making shaky, yet steady profess toward graduating in the Spring of 2012 – 4 years after he entered his 2 year college program. The trial court terminated child support, stating:
the [c]ourt is not going to make the Dad continue to pay child support for a child who is, on the [c]ourt’s perception, not making process at an appropriate rate of speed to justify me requiring Dad to continue to pay child support as though the child were still in high school…
I recognize that I [emancipated the child] under the circumstances as they exist, but if the child makes reasonable progress in school that does not mean that another application cannot be made…
In his written order, the judge stated:
Here, with all due respect, this child’s progress in school is not at what might be called a “normal course.” I[f] he is attending Cumberland County College in the Fall of 2011 – it is his fourth Fall Semester in a normally two-year school. He has taken at least one semester (Spring of 2010) off. The court cannot in good conscience require DAD to keep paying support for going on four additional years while the child takes twice as long to complete a program than normal.
The custodial mother appealed. The Appellate Division affirmed the decision of the trial court for “substantially [sic] the reasons stated by the trial judge…” and found no abuse of discretion in the trial court’s ruling.
Eliana T. Baer is a frequent contributor to the New Jersey Family Legal Blog and a member of the Family Law Practice Group of Fox Rothschild LLP. Eliana practices in Fox Rothschild’s Princeton, New Jersey office and focuses her state-wide practice on representing clients on issues relating to divorce, equitable distribution, support, custody, adoption, domestic violence, premarital agreements and Appellate Practice. You can reach Eliana at (609) 895-3344, or firstname.lastname@example.org.