We have written many times on this blog about the dangers of using social media in connection with an ongoing divorce, custody dispute, domestic violence matter, and more.  Apparently Rachel Canning, the New Jersey teen suing her parents for financial support and college payments, is not a subscriber to the blog.  If she were, she would know that creating a Facebook page to support her suit against her parents is only going to lead to trouble.

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A quick review of the Facebook page reveals the following recent posts, which are believed to have been written by Canning herself:

In New Jersey (as in most states) parents are required to support their kids through high school unless legally emancipated, which I’m not. This means that they can NOT put conditions on me being at home, which they did. They can’t get out of this. The fact that they cut my tuition was also clear bad faith, and a breach of contract with the school. What did they expect me to do, drop out? I am absolutely amazed at some of the cruel (and legally ignorant) comments I’m reading here.

Suburban baby boomer types are the spoiled lot, they make massive amount of money a year, they are used to flying to luxury destinations when they want, and buy things that they don’t need, people should be inclined to see things Rachel’s way.We have been stunned by the financial greed of modern parents who are more concerned with retiring into some fantasy world rather than provide for their c…hildren’s college and young adult years.

In today’s economy there are no more meaningful jobs and without family help it’s usually military or bust. We see parents like this every day, children were always an accessory to them and nothing more, once that accessory grew up and went out of fashion, much like a marriage that people allegedly commit to, the child becomes a throwaway, that’s just how it is.

Not only have these, and other posts from Canning resulted in harsh responses from many page followers, but the posts themselves constitute potential evidence for her parents to utilize, and the trial judge to rely upon, when further rendering decisions in this matter.  The judge has already made some very strong statements against Rachel’s position, including commentary addressing the gross disrespect that he believes she has shown towards her parents.  The posts may, as a result, further tarnish her image and credibility, which may also be a factor in the Court’s decision making process.
Clearly Rachel has either taken it upon herself, or been advised by others, to use the Facebook page in an effort to sway public opinion in her favor.  Perhaps she is the litigant that I previously blogged about who is simply unable to stop herself, like many other people in today’s society, from using social media to post about anything and everything.  Considering the surprisingly massive attention this Morris County case is getting, she should think twice.  The potential negatives far outweigh any nominal benefits to be gained.

 

Talk about sticker shock.  A New Jersey father was recently ordered to pay more than $112,000 for his daughter to attend Cornell Law School.

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But is it really shocking?  The parties’ divorce agreement, entered into in 2009, did provide that the parents would split the cost of law school provided that she maintained over a ‘C’ average.  After all, isn’t that what agreements are for?  To be upheld and enforced?

There was a wrinkle, however.   At the time of the divorce, the daughter had already been emancipated.  In years that followed, father and daughter had a falling out. There was therefore no communication regarding the choice of law school or the daughter’s decision to attend Cornell.  Also, the daughter waited about three years from her college graduation date to enroll in law school in order to take time off and work.

While the parties’ attorneys attempted to settle the dispute, it was to no avail.  Apparently, the mother rebuffed the father’s offers to pay $7,500 per year toward Rutgers Law School, provided that the daughter lived at home with the mother and provided the father with weekly updates as to her progress.

Ultimately, he was ordered by the trial court to pay one-half of the daughter’s tuition at Cornell Law School.  The Appellate Division upheld that decision in light of his clear agreement at the time of the divorce to pay half of law school.

In that regard, the Appellate Division stated:

Where a settlement agreement is used to define the terms of a divorce, the agreement should be “‘entitled to considerable weight with respect to [its] validity and enforceability’ in equity, provided [it is] fair and just.” … We find nothing unfair or unjust in enforcement of paragraph 7 of the parties’ divorce settlement agreement as they executed it.

But is it fair and just?  The father, a Rutgers University professor, did offer to pay a portion of the cost of Rutgers University Law School, a state school, whose total cost is approximately $22,000 per year.

By contrast, Business Insider ranks Cornell – total tuition $76,680 – as #7 in their list of Top 10 Most Expensive Law Schools, broken down as follows:

Tuition:  $55,220

Living, Transportation & Personal Expenses: $16,250

Health Insurance:  $2,110

Books, Supplies & Computer:  $3,100

Blowing Your Life Savings On A Law Degree In One Of The Toughest Markets For Lawyers In History: Priceless?

While the total price of tuition may seem like a swift punch to the gut, it may sit even worse when you realize that chances are that the daughter, who was admitted into a prestigious Ivy League institution, would have received a scholarship at Rutgers.

In these tough economic times, especially when law degrees may not be as valuable as they were once thought to be, does it make sense for parents to be compelled to pay for pricey education, especially when he or she had no chance to put their foot down and say “no, it’s just too expensive”? Is an agreement to pay for half of law school and invitation for the child to attend any law school, without regard for the cost or the financial toll the decision will take on her parents?

Interstingly, this story has just gained national attention in the wake of on Tuesday mornings ruling by a Superior Court judge in Morris County refused to order a Lincoln Park couple to pay private school and college tuition for their 18-year-old daughter who moved out of their house and is suing for financial support.  See Robert Epstein’s recent post on the issue here.

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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 etbaer@foxrothschild.com.

You may have heard about the hot news story that continues to gain traction nationwide where a New Jersey teen sued her parents in the Morris County Superior Court for financial support, private high school tuition, college payments, and attorney fees.  It even made the cover of today’s Star Ledger.  She is seeking an official declaration that she is unemancipated and, as a result, her parents are still obligated to support her.  The case has largely generated a public outcry, as people question how, based on the facts and circumstances at issue, a court could consider impeding on parents’ rights.

Rachel Canning, eighteen years old and a student at Morris Catholic High School (who has reportedly been admitted to seven different colleges), claims that her parents forced her to leave their home and that, as a result, she is unable to financially support herself.  Her allegations are certainly troubling, whether true or not, that her parents verbally abused her, and also threatened to physically do so.  Her certification to the court, signed under oath, claimed that she “had to leave to end the abuse,” that her parents stopped paying private high school tuition to punish her, and that they have redirected her college fund.

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By contrast, her parents deny the abuse, and claim that Rachel left voluntarily because she did not want to obey their rules, such as being respectful, complying with curfew, and performing some chores around the home.  In fact, they are welcoming her back into their home.  They further claim that Rachel was suspended from school in October, 2013, shortly before moving out of the home, and, as a result, her parents indicated that she could no longer see her boyfriend (who was also suspended from school), and had lost her car and phone privileges.

When the punishment came down, her father claims that Rachel cut school again and ran away from home.  Rachel moved in with relatives of a close friend, and the lawsuit is being funded by a former Morris County Freeholder.  Interestingly, while Rachel’s parents have paid for Morris Catholic through the end of last calendar year, the school has indicated that it would not kick her out for unpaid 2014 tuition.

Notably, an investigation undertaken by the Division of Child Placement and Permanency (DCPP), which Rachel claims was initiated by the school, determined that her allegations of emotional abuse were unfounded.

Yesterday, March 4th, the Morris County trial judge, the Honorable Peter Bogaard, J.S.C., denied Rachel’s request for immediate weekly child support, thousands of dollars in attorney fees, and immediate reimbursement of her high school tuition.  The judge denied the high school reimbursement request because the school indicated that she could remain for her last semester without payment, and denied the request for immediate financial assistance because there was no emergency posed.  The judge did rule that her parents must continue to cover the child on their health insurance policy and maintain the status quo on all existing college savings accounts.

Another hearing is scheduled for April to determine other issues in the suit, including whether Rachel voluntarily left her parents’ home, and whether her parents are required to pay for college.  In so ruling, he admonished the child for her disrespectful behavior towards her parents, fault for which Rachel’s attorney attributed to her parents.

The case is newsworthy in asking a trial judge to determine whether parents have a support obligation for this child.  It presents one of those very “slippery slope” type situations where, if Rachel’s relief is granted, it could potentially open the door for kids everywhere to sue their parents for financial support.  Indeed, Judge Bogaard remarked during yesterday’s oral argument that this could open the door for a twelve year old to sue his parents for an X-Box, or another young child suing her parents for an iPhone, because everyone has an iPhone.

While Rachel’s allegations are concerning, that does not mean she is entitled to that which she seeks from the court.  Emancipation requires that a child be beyond the “sphere of parental influence,” but parents also have a fundamental right to parent their children without unnecessary interference.  Indeed, Rachel’s parents argue that the person funding her litigation is interfering with that very fundamental premise.  We have dealt with that very situation in the past, where a relative or family friend will fund a child’s litigation against parents for various forms of relief.

Further, while divorced parents in New Jersey are required to fund an unemancipated child’s college education, intact parents are not similarly required to do so.  Perhaps that is somehow unfair or incongruous, or some sort of equal protection issue, but it is the law.  A decision by the trial judge requiring the parents to pay for college, or somehow maintain the already existing college funds for Rachel, will certainly garner attention statewide, if not nationwide, and will undoubtedly lead to ongoing litigation between a child and her parents embroiled in a battle that has long since veered out of control.  The litigation is tragic, and hopefully this matter will soon come to an end so that this family can work on getting itself back together and moving on.

 

 

I am an advocate of resolving divorce and custody disputes and helping my clients make reasonable attempts to avoid judicial intervention.  It is less costly, less lengthy and allows litigants to make their own decisions regarding their children, finances, assets and debts.  However, the motivation for entering into a settlement agreement should not be solely for bringing about absolute “certainty”.  Litigation is exhausting and unpleasant.  It does not matter if the divorce or custody litigants are extremely hostile with one another or relatively amicable.  Many of my clients tell me that the feeling of uncertainty is most exhausting. I suppose that it is that feeling of uncertainty that motivates some litigants to insist on provisions resolving issues that may or may not arise in the future.  Some litigants want to resolve how each parent will pay for college of their children even though their children are not yet even in high school at the time of the divorce.  Some insist on provisions “locking-in” support obligations.  Others press for absolute parenting time schedules. However, people who demand settlement provisions that are intended to resolve future events may regret it at the time the future event occurs.

In the example where college contribution amounts are pre-determined before the child is close to college age, what happens if at the time that the child is getting ready to attend college he or she is estranged from a parent?  What if the parents do not agree on the school either for financial reasons or because one parent does not agree that attendance at the chosen college is in the child’s best interest?  Can the pre-determined college contribution amount be modified?  Getting the answer to these questions result in litigation that the parties hoped to avoid.  Depending on the circumstances and other factors that may be weighed in by the Court, an agreement to pay a set amount or a set percentage towards college expenses may be upheld much to the dismay of one parent.

It seems very appealing to some to “lock-in” an alimony amount in a settlement agreement regardless of future changed circumstances.  It may be appealing to the person receiving the alimony because the person has a set amount to rely upon.  It may be appealing to the person paying the alimony because the person is assured that any increase in income will not result in an increase in alimony.  In recent years, the downturn in our economy impacted many people.  Those in an alimony lock-in situation may have felt the financial impact of the downturn but are nonetheless entitled to receive or obligated to pay the locked-in alimony amount.  They will not get more even if they need it or be obligated to pay less even if they can no longer afford the set alimony amount.

Recently, the New Jersey Appellate Division rendered a short unreported decision (non-precedential) in Brucia v. Gamble regarding modification to a school year parenting time schedule which was negotiated and agreed upon when the child was not yet even school age.  It is unclear from the decision if one parent insisted on the provision or if both parents desired to “pre-resolve” the school year parenting time schedule even before their child was school age.  In any case, clearly, the provision left one litigant regretting entering into the “pre-resolution”.  In Brucia v. Gamble, at the time of the divorce, plaintiff and defendant’s son was 2 years old.  They entered into a settlement agreement that included a provision outlining a detailed parenting time schedule inclusive of a schedule for when their son would begin school.   Three years after the divorce, their son began attending school and defendant sought to modify the schedule asserting that the son wished to spend more time with him.  The trial court denied the request and the defendant appealed.  The Appellate Division found that because the parties anticipated the eventuality of the child attending school and entered into a parenting time schedule defendant did not show changed circumstances to warrant a modification of the Order nor did he show that the provision was not in his son’s best interest.

I started this blog stating that I am an advocate of parties resolving their divorce and custody disputes.  However, I am wary about agreed upon provisions that pre-determine possible future disputes.  Life is full of uncertainty and changes.  Be cautious when agreeing to pre-determined resolutions for future events.

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Apple Sulit-Peralejo is a partner of the firm and a resident attorney in the Atlantic City office.  She is an experienced matrimonial/family law attorney having negotiated Prenuptial Agreements, Custody Agreements and Divorce Agreements and having litigated unresolvable cases during the past eighteen years.  Apple may be reached at (609) 572-2230 or asperalejo@foxrothschild.com.

It seems with greater frequency, a divorced parent will argue that he should not have to pay for a child’s college (a New Jersey requirement) because he has a poor relationship with the child and, relatedly, had no say in the education decision making process (i.e., what college, at what cost, etc.).  Since a parent’s relationship with a child is only one factor to be considered in determining that parent’s obligation to pay for a child’s post-secondary education, this argument is usually unsuccessful in isolation due to the importance of a child obtaining a post-secondary degree.

In an interesting approach to get around the limited success rate surrounding this argument, the dad in Radcliffe v. Radcliffe, Jr., a newly unpublished (not precedential) decision from the Appellate Division, argued primarily that the parties’ settlement agreement required the child’s emancipation, which would extinguish his obligation to support the child and pay for his share of college.  When reviewing the facts of the case as presented in the decision, the father’s approach seemed dubious, and, as a result, the Appellate Division not only took him to task in reversing the trial court – which actually largely relied on the parent-child relationship in rendering its decision – but also commended the daughter’s conduct.

As a refresher, a court will deem a child emancipated if, based on existing facts and circumstances, the child has moved “beyond the sphere of parental influence and responsibility exercised by a parent and obtains an independent status of his or her own.”  A court will look at, among other things, the child’s needs, interests, independent resources, the family’s reasonable expectations, and the parties’ financial ability.

In Radcliffe, the parties agreement, as often occurs, specifically defined emancipation as follows:

a. The completion of the child’s formal education on a matriculated basis, whether it be graduation from a four year undergraduate school or high school. It is understood that as long as the child is diligently pursuing his or her formal education through a four year high school or a four year undergraduate college education, is obtaining passing grades, and is deemed by the college or school to be a full time student, the child shall not be considered emancipated.

b. Upon the completion of any of the prior segments of the child’s education and upon failure to commence the next segment of his or her education, or upon leaving school, the child shall be deemed emancipated. A child shall not be emancipated if one fails to continue his or her education because of some injury, illness or other cause beyond the child’s control.

c. The marriage of the child.

d. Entry into the military or armed forces of the child.

The parties also agreed to share the financial cost of college.

The facts here then take an interesting turn:

  • Daughter graduates from high school in June, 2012.
  • Prior to graduation, she was accepted at a private, out-of-state, 4-year college, which, after financial aid, would still cost $30,000 per year.
  • Recognizing her parents’ inability to afford this amount, daughter – one week after her high school graduation – enrolled in a 26 week “massage and bodywork program” at an accredited vocational institute.  With her massage therapist certification, daughter hoped to work during college and contribute to her education costs.  Tuition for the vocational program was $11,000.  Daughter took out a loan for $3,900 and asked her parents to fund the remaining portion.
  • After obtaining her massage therapist certification, daughter intended on enrolling at a county community college for the Spring 2013 semester.  She ultimately planned to attend community college for 2 years and then transfer to a New Jersey state, 4 year college or university so as to complete the last 2 years of her undergraduate education.  Community college cost $2,250 per semester, but, after the financial aid she received, would only cost $700 per semester.  While attending community college, daughter would continue to reside with mom and commute to school.
  • Daughter sent dad a copy of the tuition bill for the massage therapy program asking him to pay his portion.
  • Dad responded by filing a motion to emancipate his daughter, arguing that he had not had any contact with the daughter for the past 18 months, had not been consulted on her education plans, and, because daughter was not enrolled in a 4-year college, she should be deemed emancipated per the settlement agreement.
  • The trial court emancipated the daughter, thereby ending dad’s support and college obligation.  Mom appealed.

In reversing the trial court’s decision, the Appellate Division repeatedly commended the daughter for what it described as her “innovative” plan, where there was “absolutely no break in her quest for a college degree.”  Specifically, the Court concluded that the daughter had not moved beyond that “sphere of influence,” as she was still living with mom, was still financially dependent on her parents, had only missed one semester of college so as to pursue her “quest,” and was doing everything she could to obtain that undergraduate degree, including pursuing full-time educational pursuits.

As to its interpretation of the contractual language in the parties’ settlement agreement, the Appellate Division concluded that the parties’ intended for the daughter to go to college, and even agreed to jointly fund the entire net cost of college expenses.  Lauding the daughter for her in-state college plan, rather than compelling her parents to fund an out-of-state private school education, the Court concluded that she would obtain that 4-year degree so long as everything went as planned.

The Court then moved onto the trial court’s decision, which relied primarily on dad’s argument that he should not have to pay due to the poor relationship he had with the daughter.  Ultimately, the Appellate Division found that the trial court’s reliance on this one single factor of the analysis I describe above was improper:

The child has a commitment to her education, a commitment to working during college to help pay her way, and a commitment to earning as much financial aid as possible to reduce her parents’ burden.  After considering all of these factors, we conclude they weigh substantially in favor of requiring defendant to pay his share of the daughter’s vocational school and college expenses.

Based on the specific facts at issue, the Appellate Division’s decision seems appropriate in rightfully rejecting dad’s efforts to avoid payment for the college expenses that he is obligated to pay in the State of New Jersey, and agreed to pay in the parties’ settlement agreement.

 

Today, I am highlighting another feature of our New Jersey Divorce App, the Asset Identifier.  While the “Finance Tracker” gives you the ability to input your more commonly identifiable assets such as your house, car, boat, bank accounts, the Asset Identifier does something a little bit different.

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It is important when considering what each party will get in a divorce, to identify all of your assetS. This will guarantee you address all assets when dealing with settlement as well as monthly support payments.  However, many people with oftentimes overlook some less than obvious assets.

With the Asset Identifier, you have the ability to go through a list of assets that some people do not even realize should be divided in equitable distribution.  Eric Solotoff expounded further on what this may include in his February 2008 blog post – Hidden/Forgotten Assets.

For example, did you know that the following could be considered assets subject to equitable distribution in your divorce:

  • Frequent flyer mileage
  • Timeshare property
  • Country club memberships
  • Unused vacation or sick leave
  • Many, many more…

The Asset Identifier provides you with a full list of items that you may not have even considered in checklist form.  Once completed, you can then send it right off to your attorney so that he/she can make sure they are negotiating a complete and comprehensive settlement on your behalf.

For more information and to download the New Jersey Divorce App, click here.

______________________________________________________________________________ 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 etbaer@foxrothschild.com.

Oftentimes I hear from clients that gathering their financial information is the most daunting task they will face during the divorce process. They picture being buried in an avalanche of documents, account numbers and canceled checks.

The New Jersey Divorce App’s Finance Tracker can help.  In fact, I have recommended it to my clients before, with great results.

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The Finance Tracker is designed to help you focus in on the necessary information that you will need throughout the divorce process.

It is split up into 4 categories:

Income

Assets – like your house, car, bank accounts, retirement accounts, etc.

Expenses

Liabilities

Each section is then split into subcategories, which allows you to categorize the information in a way that makes sense.

Here is the best part: you can send the information directly to your attorney – straight from the app!

While the divorce process can be overwhelming at times, the New Jersey Divorce App, along with its Finance Tracker and other great features make things a little bit more manageable.

For more information and to download the New Jersey Divorce App, click here.

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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 etbaer@foxrothschild.com.

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.

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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 etbaer@foxrothschild.com.

 

So you are divorced and your child is going off to college.  What is the best way to get the other parent to contribute, whether there is an agreement that says he should or the agreement says that the issue shall abide the event.  Should you A) consult prior to college and keep the other parent in the loop and then make a motion if you cannot agree before the child goes off ot college; B)  make a unilateral decision then file your motion; or C) wait until the child graduates and when the other parent makes a motion for emancipation, hit him with a cross motion asking him to pay his share of a six figure college bill?  Obviously, A is the preferred method, B is a worse method and C is a method that may risk you not getting re-paid.

As we learned from the Supreme Court a few years ago in Gac v. Gac, a former husband was not required to contribute toward his child’s college education expenses, because neither his ex- wife nor his child requested financial assistance from him until after he sought to terminate child support and the child had graduated from college.  The Coourt found that their failure to make such request at time that would have enabled the father to participate in child’s educational decision as well as to plan for his own financial future weighed heavily against ordering him to contribute to the child’s educational expenses after her education was completed.

As the philosopher George Satayana said, those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.  That is what happened in the unreported (non-precedential) case of Fletcher v. Euston decided on June 11, 2013.  The facts of this case are similar to Gac and the worst case noted above.  However, the parties’ divorce agreement did provide that the parties would share the cost of college based upon their financial ability at the time.  In response to the Husband’s motion for emancipation, the ctrial court ordered him to reimburse the former wife over $111,000.  The Husband appealed. Continue Reading If You Want the Other Parent to Pay for College, Don't Wait Until Graduation to Seek Contribution

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.”