Emancipation Laws in NJ
Like many aspects of family law, the law on emancipation is rather vague. A good rule of thumb is whether or not the child is in school. If the child graduates from high school and is 18 but is not going to college, a strong case can be made for emancipation. If the child graduates or drops out of college, a strong case could also be made. Of course, it is never really that simple and lawyers make things even more complicated, unless you have one on your side!
Here is what the courts say on the issue:
Generally, “emancipation is the act by which a parent relinquishes the right to custody and is relieved of the duty to support a child.” Newburgh, supra, 88 N.J. at 543. In New Jersey, there is no fixed age when emancipation occurs. Gac v. Gac, 186 N.J. 535, 542 (2006). While a rebuttable presumption against emancipation occurs prior to reaching the age of majority, N.J.S.A. 9:17B-3, attainment of age eighteen establishes prima facie, but not conclusive, proof of emancipation. Ibid. For example, emancipation may occur upon a child’s marriage, upon induction into military service, by court order based on a child’s best interest, or by attainment of an appropriate age. Newburgh, supra, 88 N.J. at 543. The issue is fact sensitive. Filippone v. Lee, 304 N.J. Super. 301, 308 (App. Div. 1997).
“[T]he essential inquiry is whether the child has moved ‘beyond the sphere of influence and responsibility exercised by a parent and obtains an independent status of his or her own.'” Ibid. (quoting Bishop v. Bishop, 287 N.J. Super. 593, 598 (Ch. Div. 1995)). This determination requires “a critical evaluation of the prevailing circumstances including the child’s need[s], interests, and independent resources, the family’s reasonable expectations, and the parties’ financial ability, among other things.” Dolce v. Dolce, 383 N.J. Super. 11, 18 (App. Div. 2006).
That doesn’t really help, does it? Worse yet, you can present one set of facts to two judges and probably get three (yes, three) different results. From handling many of these motions, I’ve learned that the best way to approach these motion is to just keep fighting. That’s often how I win the tough ones.