3 Things to Know About Ending Child Support Payments
If you’ve been divorced in New Jersey, and you don’t have primary physical custody of your children, you can expect to be paying child support until they are grown. This is a very serious obligation, a financial commitment that, depending on the age of your children, could last almost two decades, weathering changes in your lifestyle, your career, your relationship with your dependent children and with your former spouse, and your finances. As you plan to meet these obligations ahead – and to deal with all the other child care expenses not covered by the support payments, like car insurance and college costs – it’s important that you understand how and when the child support obligation will end.
Child support obligations end when a child is “emancipated”
The word “emancipation” comes from Latin: it combines “e” for “out” and “mancipium” for “slave.” Further, “mancipium” comes from “manus” for “hand” and “capere” for “to take.” As it refers to the child-parent relationship, emancipation means that a parent can no longer make decisions for a child, and the child is no longer entitled to financial support from the parent. The parent and child are “letting go.”
In New Jersey, emancipation could occur when a child turns 18. However, if the child attends a four-year college, child support payments could continue until the child graduates. Unusual circumstances, such as a child’s mental or physical disability, could move a judge to extend child support even further.
However, there are other potential triggers for emancipation. If a child moves out of the custodial parent’s home, gets a full-time job, and/or starts a family, all of these could justify emancipation – but the onus would be on you, the paying parent, to bring this development to the court’s attention before you can stop payments.
There are serious penalties for stopping child support payments before emancipation
If you stop paying child support (for any reason), the custodial parent can bring this to the court’s attention. This could result in a warrant for your arrest, and the authorities could keep you in jail until you have paid your arrears. Your passport will be revoked and you could lose your driver’s license. These consequences will disrupt every aspect of your life, and will be far more costly than the payments you neglected to make.
You might be able to modify a payment obligation before emancipation
Many parents are upset to learn that child support payments could last through a child’s college career. They don’t usually object to supporting the child: the problem is that the non-custodial parent would continue to make payments to the custodial parent, who may not have meaningful “custody” of the child for much of the year. Young adults in college might spend their semesters or trimesters in dorms or in an apartment near campus. They might come home for holidays, but spend their summers traveling with friends, doing research out of the home, or continuing to reside in an apartment near the school.
Other parents are worried to find that child support payments do not automatically adjust with their finances. If they lose a job, take a pay cut, face unforeseen expenses, or experience depreciation in assets, they will still be obligated to make the scheduled child support payments.
There is the potential for some flexibility, however. While you can’t make the decision to stop or modify child support payments, you can request that a court modify the support obligation. If you feel you need to reduce payments, you may present your reasons to the court, offering evidence of a material change in your circumstances. If you have a child 18 or older in college, a court might also grant you permission to make a significant portion (but not all) of your payments directly to your child.
The custodial parent can also request modifications, however – beware that a court might increase child support.
The Freeman Law Center: big-firm resources, small-firm attention
If you’re planning for long-term child support obligations, have missed child support payments, or are wondering about modifying or ending your child support obligation, you need an experienced attorney to counsel you.
Brian Freeman has over 30 years of family law experience in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New York, and the District of Columbia. Contact us today to set up a free and confidential consultation at the Freeman Law Center, LLC.