In New Jersey, there is no magic age at which a child will be deemed emancipated. Emancipation has been defined by the New Jersey Supreme Court as “the act by which a parent relinquishes the right to custody and is relieved of the duty to support a child.” While the age of majority in New Jersey is eighteen, eighteen does not represent the age at which a parent no longer has a duty to support their child. Put another way, a child is emancipated when they have moved beyond the sphere of influence and responsibility by the parent and obtains an independent status.
There are certain circumstances that will generally automatically emancipate a child. For example, if a child gets married or enters the armed forces, they are generally considered to be emancipated. In addition, there are certain circumstances in which a child will generally not be automatically emancipated. For example, if a child is 18 and is a full time student enrolled in a post-high school education program, then that child will normally not be considered emancipated. This is true whether a child attends a community college, a university or a trade school. This is also true whether or not a child lives on campus, in off-campus housing, or commutes to school while residing with a parent. Additionally, if a child attends a graduate school program, often they will not be considered emancipated.
In addition, once emancipated, some young adults may become “unemancipated.” On June 2012, the New Jersey Appellate Court issued a decision in which they reiterated the principle that a child can become “unemancipated.” While this opinion was not published, meaning it can not be cited as setting a precedent, it can be used as guidance. In that case, the trial court “unemancipated” a previously emancipated young adult. The “unemancipation” was made at the request of the mother in her application for child support and college contribution from the father. The Appellate Court found that just because a child was emancipated does not mean that the child could not be “unemancipated” for purposes of receiving support in the form of college contribution. The Court reasoned that a brief hiatus between high school and college is becoming commonplace today and to stop a child from seeking contribution from their parents after such a hiatus would be unfair.
It is important to remember that every case is different and the Court will look at each family’s individual circumstances when determining whether a child should be emancipated or “unemancipated.”