New Jersey Govenor Christie has signed into law N.J.S.A. 2A:17-56.67 which significantly modifies the current law related to the duration and termination of child support obligations.
Specifically Section (a) of the new statute provides that unless a court order or judgment provides to the contrary, child support terminates by
“operation of law” when the child either: (1) dies, (2) marries, (3) enters military service or (4) reaches 19 years of age. Emancipation traditionally occurred upon: death, marriage or military service. However prior to the modification of this statute, emancipation presumptively occurred at age 18.
Significantly, before the new law emancipation was not automatic, and if the judgment or agreement did not trigger automatic emancipation, the occurrence of an emancipation event required a court order in order to terminate the support obligation. Now the supported spouse is required to file a request to continue support beyond the child’s 19th birthday under circumstances where a judgment or or court order does not provide that emancipation is deferred beyond the child’s 19th birthday. This application would not be by motion but by a form to be created by the Administrative Offices of the Court. If the family court judge grants the request to defer emancipation of the child, the payor party has the right to file an application with the court to oppose the extension of child support beyond the child’s 19th birthday. It should be note that the request to defer emancipation must be predicated upon the following:
1) The child is still in high school or enrolled in some other secondary education,
2) The child is in post-secondary school full time in the last five calendar months, or
3) The child is disabled
It is worthy of note that the statute does not have an omnibus “other equitable reasons” provision, so one would assume that unless one of the enumerated exceptions exist, an administrative request to otherwise extend child support is not available.
Another significant change in our child support law is found in subsection (a)(2) of the statute, which provides that no judgment or order can extend child support beyond the child’s 23rd birthday. Although child support cannot extend beyond a child’s 23rd birthday, according to section (e)(1), a child aged 23 or older could seek other forms of financial maintenance or reimbursement from a parent legally obligated so long as the payment is not child support.
Also important: a reading of the statute indicates that it applies not only to orders and judgments entered after it’s February 1, 2017 effective date, but to all existing child support orders and judgments enacted before the February 1, 2017 effective date. If you have a child who is over the age of 18 and is, based on the above, not yet emancipated, this is a change in the statute about which you should take note.