Should an adoptive father be required to pay child support & college expenses when the child turns 18 and leaves the mother’s home to live with her biological father? While this may seem like an unusual or unlikely scenario, this issue was brought before the Appellate Division, resulting in a published decision dated April 13, 2015.
Fact Pattern: In 1992, a daughter, Adrianna, was born to her biological parents. Her mother thereafter remarried and her new husband adopted Adrianna. In 2002, they divorced. In April 2013, the adoptive father filed a motion to emancipate Adrianna (who was over the age of 18), after learning she had moved into the home of her biological father, was not attending school, and was working. The mother confirmed this.
The child, Adrianna, filed opposition as an interested party, claiming she was attending community college full time and was earning minimum wage part time at a doughnut shop. She contended she was not emancipated and could not support herself or live independently. Adrianna claimed that her biological father was supporting her.
The trial court found that Adrianna had left her mother’s home, was being supported by other people, and by her own choosing had moved beyond the sphere of influence and responsibility exercised by her parents and was independent. She was declared emancipated.
The Appellate Division Affirmed the Emancipation: In this case, the child voluntarily relied on the support of others who were not under any legal obligation to provide her with anything. Adrianna withdrew from her parents’ supervision and control, obtained part-time employment, sporadically attended school and arranged for her support in reliance upon the financial relationship she entered into with her biological father. The trial court correctly found, under these circumstances, that she emancipated herself.
What You Need to Know:
- There is often a misconception that once a child reaches the age of 18, they are emancipated and the parents are no longer financially responsible. That is true in many States, including our neighboring State of Pennsylvania, but that is not the case in New Jersey.
- Instead, in New Jersey, Courts must look to whether or not there is evidence that the child has “moved beyond the sphere of influence of his or her parents.” Keegan v. Keegan, 326 J. Super. 289 (App. Div. 1999).
- In the child support context, emancipation is defined as the time when a child is expected to be self-supporting and the parent is relieved of his or her duty to support the child. Quinn v. Johnson, 247 J. Super. 572, 578 (Ch. Div. 1991).
- Children of divorced parents have the right “to be supported at least according to the standard of living to which they had grown accustomed prior to the separation of their parents.”
- A child’s right to support is enforceable not only at the insistence of the custodial parent, but at the child’s insistence as well.
Emancipation, child support and college contribution issues are extremely fact sensitive. It is important to contact an attorney who is well-versed in these matters, and who is equally familiar with the local Bar and the Judge who may ultimately preside over your case.
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