NJ Law requires that divorced or separated parents provide financial support for their offspring (See Appendix IX-A, Considerations in the use of Child Support Guidelines, provision 4). Importantly, that obligation persists until offspring are emancipated. Many parents assume that emancipation equates to reaching the age of majority, which in NJ is eighteen. See N.J.S.A. 9:17B-3, Minors, eighteen and older, deemed adult; exceptions. But this assumption is dead wrong. Age, while important, is just one of many factors considered in determining whether an offspring is emancipated.
The legal definition of emancipation is an amalgam of relevant court decisions. Emancipation is established when the offspring is independent, having matured “beyond the sphere of influence” and authority of the parents. See Filippone v. Lee, 304 N.J. Super. 301 (N.J. App. Div. 1997), citing Bishop v. Bishop, 287 N.J. Super. 593, 598 (N.J. Ch. Div. 1995). This boils down to one rule of thumb: each case is unique to be decided – at the court’s discretion – on the facts and circumstances.
Applying this rule to the question of whether a parent is obligated to pay child support when the offspring is attending an institution of higher education yields some interesting results. First, NJ law establishes the general principal that attending college or university does not relieve a parent from support obligations. See Limpert v. Limpert, 199 N.J. Super. 607 (N.J. App. Div. 1972). Contrast this with attendance at West Point – where upon enrollment the offspring is considered to be on active military duty – which confers emancipated status on the attendee. See Bishop v. Bishop, 287 N.J. Super. 593 (N.J. Ch. Div. 1995). We may get another result when the original child support order was issued by a court of a state that deems emancipation to occur at the age of majority, like PA. In such a case, where the offspring has attained majority, a parent may not have to foot the bill for higher education. See Marshak v. Weser, 390 Super. 387 (N.J. App. Div. 2007).
And remember, some offspring may never be emancipated, such as an individual with a disability. See Kruvant v. Kruvant, 100 N.J. Super. 107 (N.J. App. Div. 1968).