This article covers a few specifics about child support in New Jersey, including when child support ends, what happens when one parent falls behind on child support payments, and how to enforce a child support order.
When Does Child Support Terminate?
In New Jersey, you must support your children until (at a minimum) they reach 18 years of age and are no longer in school. In addition, child support ends if your child is declared emancipated, which is discussed fully below.
After a divorce (or separation if you and your child’s other parent were never married), the obligation to pay child support will end as stated in the court order awarding child support, or as stated in your settlement agreement (a written agreement between spouses or parents that resolves the issues in their divorce or separation).
When divorcing or separating parents agree on a child support amount, it’s important that they also specify when child support ends, and/or what circumstances will trigger emancipation. For example, you may want to include a provision in your agreement that states child support ends when your child turns 18 and graduates from college, or when your child obtains full-time employment.
If parents later find themselves fighting over when child support should end, they may end up in court asking a judge to decide.
What is Emancipation?
Emancipation is the legal act by which a child, who has become completely self-reliant, is released from both the control and support of a parent.
Many people mistakenly believe that a child is automatically emancipated once he or she turns 18, but this is incorrect. Some children may be emancipated prior to the age of 18 (eg., a 17-year-old minor child who moves out of the family home, works full time, or gets married). However, other children that are over 18 may still be dependent on their parent(s) and therefore, will not be declared emancipated (eg., a 19-year-old college student that relies exclusively on parental support, or who has a pre-existing disability that prevents full-time employment.)
For more on this topic, see Emancipation of a Child in New Jersey.
Can a parent ask a court to emancipate a child and terminate child support?
Yes. If you’re paying child support, but believe your child has become self-reliant, you may file an application (also known as a “motion”) with the court, asking a judge to find that your child is emancipated and no longer entitled to financial support.
Age is a factor in determining emancipation, but it’s not the only factor courts will consider. Although there’s a presumption that a child becomes emancipated at the age of 18, this presumption can be rebutted (overcome) by showing that a child hasn’t reached a truly independent status.
In addition to age, courts will consider the following factors when deciding whether to emancipate a child:
- the child’s needs
- the child’s interests
- the child’s independent resources
- the family’s reasonable expectations
- the parents’ and the child’s financial abilities, and
- any other factor the court believes is relevant to the decision.
If a judge declares that your child is emancipated, your duty to pay child support ends.
Do Parents have to Pay College Costs for their Children?
If divorced parents can’t agree, the decision on whether or not a parent should pay for college costs will rest with a court. In New Jersey, there’s a strong trend towards requiring parents, if they are financially capable, to pay for college expenses.
When making this decision, a court will take the following factors into account:
- the reasonableness of the expectation for higher education
- the amount sought by the child for the cost of the higher education
- the parent’s ability to pay that cost
- the relationship of the requested contribution to the kind of school or course of study sought by the child
- both parties’ financial resources
- the child’s commitment to, and aptitude for, the requested education
- the child’s financial resources, including assets held individually or in custodianship or trust
- the child’s ability to earn income during the school year or on vacation
- the availability of financial aid in the form of college grants
- the child's relationship to the paying parent, including mutual affection, shared goals, and responsiveness to parental advice and guidance, and
- the relationship of the education sought to any prior training and to the child’s long-term goals.
What Happens when Parents don’t Pay Child Support?
When a parent fails to pay child support and it becomes past due, the amount due is called an “arrearage.” If your ex-spouse (or your child’s other parent) fails to pay court-ordered child support, you can request an enforcement hearing, which is an attempt to get the courts to order the owing or “delinquent parent” to pay.
Courts have the authority to take drastic measures to ensure that parents pay child support. For example, a court may suspend a delinquent parent's driver's license or professional license. Additionally, arrearages may be reported to credit bureaus, which will have a negative impact on credit scores. A court can even impose a lien on the delinquent parent’s real estate in an amount equal to his or her child support arrearages.
If the above remedies don’t encourage a parent to pay child support, the court may issue a bench warrant for the delinquent parent’s arrest. Once in jail, a court might not release the delinquent parent until some of the child support arrears are paid.
For a complete description of child support arrears and the legal consequences for the failure to pay child support in New Jersey, see Child Support in Arrears after Divorce, by Amy Castillo.