On Tuesday, January 19th, Governor Christie took a break from his busy presidential campaign to sign several new pieces of pending legislation, one of which was New Jersey’s pending emancipation statute that impacts upon child support and when/how it terminates. The new law, which takes effect 180 days after its signing, is applicable to all child support orders issued prior to, or, or after its effective date. Much of it codifies existing case law, but alters, in part, the prior rebuttable presumption that child support terminates when a child reaches age 18. The language specifics and nuances will most certainly in a manner similar to the amended alimony law, future litigation over what such language means and how it should be applied.
With that said, let’s take a look at the important components of the new emancipation law and what it means:
Termination of Child Support
The law provides that, unless otherwise indicated in a court order or judgment, the obligation to pay child support shall terminate without order on the date a child – who is less than 19 years of age – marries, dies or enters into military service.
Child support shall also terminate when a child reaches 19 years of age unless:
- another age for such termination is specified in a court order;
- the parties consent and the court approves the continuation of support until after a predetermined date; or
- child support is extended by the court based on an application filed by a parent or the child prior to reaching age 19.
A parent or child may also seek the continuation of child support beyond 19 years of age under the following circumstances:
- the child is still enrolled in high school or other secondary program;
- the child is participating full-time in a post-secondary education program;
- the child has a physical or mental disability that existed prior to the child reaching the age of 19 and requires continued child support; or
- other exceptional circumstances as may be approved by the court.
Interestingly, if a court orders the continuation of child support, it must also provide in the order “a future date upon which the child support obligation will terminate or a date upon which the court will review the circumstances of the parties and children.”
Matters involving child support obligations supervised by the Probation Division will require Probation (and the State IV-D agency) to provide both parents with at least one notice of proposed termination and instructions on how to seek a continuation of child support. Such notice is to be provided no less than 90 days prior to the termination of support under the new law.
Unallocated Child Support for Two or More Children
The new law codifies that if there exists an unallocated (not specifying the amount for each child) child support order for two or more children and the obligation to pay for one child terminates, the existing support obligation shall continue until modified by court order. Of course, this is no way prevents the parties from coming to a resolution of the issue to avoid the time and expense associated with litigation.
If the support for such children was allocated – rather than unallocated – and support for one terminates, the amount of child support for the remaining children shall be adjusted to reflect only the amount allotted for the remaining child/children.
Arrears Existing at Termination
If support arrears exist when support terminates under the new statute, such arrears will remain due and enforceable. The new law provides how payment for such arrears will be made, as the “sum of the recurring child support obligation in effect immediately prior to the effective date of termination plus any arrears repayment obligation in effect immediately prior to the effective date of termination” unless otherwise ordered.
Impact on Foreign Support Orders
The new statute shall not apply to child support provisions contained in orders/judgments entered by a foreign jurisdiction and registered in New Jersey for modification or enforcement under the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (“UIFSA”), or a law substantially similar to New Jersey’s prior Uniform Reciprocal Enforcement of Support Act (“URESA”).
Impact on Support While Child in College/Post-Secondary Educational Institution
The law unambiguously provides that it does not require or relieve a parent from paying “support or other costs while a child is enrolled full-time in a post-secondary education program.”
Important Miscellaneous Points
Any party may also still seek to terminate child support for any reason other than that provided in the new law. Also, the law confirms that it does not “prohibit the parties from consenting to a specific termination date subject to the approval of the court.” Prior language that did not make its way into the final law focused on utilizing “capped” age of 23 to terminate support, which is often found in settlement agreements as a sort of “catch all” provision as to when child support will end. I have had adversaries argue to me – when, of course, it suits their client’s position – that using the age of 23 as a cap to end child support is unenforceable as against public policy. The new law confirms, however, that such a cap could be enforceable, and that it – like any other agreed upon language regarding a support termination date – is subject to the court’s approval. Hopefully that will limit litigation that can occur surrounding such provisions in a settlement agreement. To that end, practitioners should also consider incorporating references to the new law in the emancipation portions of their settlement agreements.
*Photo courtesy of Google free images.