What is emancipation, and how does a child become emancipated in New Jersey? In the video, we’re going to answer questions about child emancipation:

  • Can a 16-year-old move out of the home without parental consent?
  • How do we define emancipation?
  • What’s the purpose of emancipation?
  • When is a child considered emancipated in New Jersey?
  • When does child support and custody end?
  • What factors determine whether a child can be emancipated?
  • As A Parent, Can I Emancipate My Child or Can They Emancipate Themselves?
  • If I owe child support at emancipation age, are the arrears still due?
  • If your child is emancipated, are there any options to reverse it?
  • If your child is disabled, do they ever automatically become emancipated?

WATCH: Attorney Abigale Stolfe discusses what factors determine when a child can be emancipated in New Jersey


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This is Abigale Stolfe, from New Jersey Family Law Group, and today is our Let’s Do Lunch Monday.

Today, we’re going to talk about emancipation, which seems like a pretty simple topic until you really dive into the depths of some of the nuances of what is and is not available to constitute an emancipating event. I know because I had been contacted by a few people that some out of state individuals review these videos in order to gain some information and learn some tidbits for their own cases out of state. What I will tell you is emancipation, and the timing of emancipation is state specific. What I’m talking about here is relative to New Jersey child support and custody. In your state, the timing parameters and definitions may be different. So, it is important that you look at the laws in your state to define emancipation in your particular case.

How Do We Define Emancipation?

There’s obviously case law on emancipation. There’s statutory guidance on when and how you pay child support and how you determine custody. Emancipation is child-related, so it goes to parenting time and it goes to support for the child. Despite that, normally when people enter into a settlement agreement, they define emancipation. In a typical case, by the time someone is coming to us years after the divorce, the settlement agreement has already provided for the parameters of when an emancipating event would occur.

Let’s take that set of facts and push it aside for a second, because if you have a settlement agreement that defines it, this video might give you some insight. That’s your primary place to go. That’s your Bible. Your settlement agreement is your Bible for your family on how to move forward.

What’s The Purpose Of Emancipation?

Emancipation is to allow the child support to terminate, your financial duties to end and typically to terminate any custody and parenting time order as well. There are some people who make a decision, not so much as to the financial aspect, but in order to move forward with the children in their own lives, to emancipate before what we would customarily define as a period of emancipation, or let’s say 18 or 20 or 22. Those are the rare exceptions to the rule. We’re going to take that set of people and we’re going to move them aside too for a second.

What we’re going to talk about first is the primary person who comes and says, “My child is 18 years old and I believe they’re emancipated.” In New Jersey, emancipation is considered to have come into effect, your child’s considered emancipated, when they are outside of the sphere of influence. Meaning they’re not in need of financial support. They’re not in need of your daily continuing emotional support. They’re not in need of your daily and continuing guidance. They have a place to stay. They have the financial wherewithal to stay somewhere outside of your home. They are independent.

Normally, an 18-year-old is not independent. However, if an 18-year-old has graduated high school, has obtained employment and is working full-time and not pursuing education, then even though they may still be living in your home and they may still very much need your guidance because they’re only 18, that child could be considered emancipated. However, if a child is 18 and working full-time in the summer and going to college come the fall, that child would not be considered emancipated because a child in New Jersey who is continuing secondary education, vocational school, college, whatever the secondary education is, is not considered to be emancipated.

So, when you’re looking at, do I even take this next step to try to emancipate my child, look at whether or not they are inside or outside the sphere of influence based upon what we just talked about. Those are just some quick guides. There might be other reasons. There might be good reasons to emancipate. There are those carve out exceptions, which the law recognizes as to why a child should be emancipated despite being in school. If you have something and you say, “Well, this doesn’t seem right. I don’t think I should have to continue to support this child,” well then you should call, and you should ask because you might be one of these carve out exceptions that we’re not going to go into detail on today.

When you are looking to emancipate a child, what you’re really saying is, “I’m okay with formulating and forging my own and independent relationship with this adult as to parenting time and as to support.” Because let’s face it, whether your children are 18 or 20 or 24, they’re always going to need your help, right? They’re going to need your guidance. They might need your financial assistance at various points in their life.

Emancipation is not a divorce because you can never really divorce your kids, most people wouldn’t anyway. You may divorce your spouse and have an end date for your obligations to them, but your end date to children is never. That’s going to be a forever situation. So, what you’re really saying is I’m going to create a situation where my child and I create and forge our own relationship, how we’re going to work together to see each other and how I’m going to help them financially.

When you move to emancipate a child, remember that means you are emancipating them from the parenting time as well. A lot of times we get a call and say, “Well, I don’t want to have to pay any more, but they should still have to come with me every other weekend.” Well, you don’t get both worlds. You don’t get to do both. If your child is outside of your sphere of influence and outside of the need of the guidance of his parents and that would include the parenting time. So, when you make the decision to emancipate for financial reasons, make sure you understand that that’s a hand-in-hand process.

In New Jersey, 18 is not an automatic emancipation age. A lot of people think it is. It is not. Your child may not be emancipated until after college. Your child may not be emancipated until after graduate school, depending on the circumstances of your family. It ultimately boils down to your family.

The federal law requires that at the age of 19, the State of New Jersey send a notice to the custodial parent … I think the non-custodial parent as well, but certainly the custodial parent gets it … indicating that if they don’t provide proof that the child is in secondary education, then the child will be administratively emancipated. What that means is that the child support is being stopped. So how do we get around that? Well, provide proof that your child is actually in secondary education so the child support will continue. Alternatively, understand that when the child support for that child stops, it’s going to take an affirmative application to the court, to either undo the administrative emancipation, or if it was a proper administrative emancipation, then to recalculate the support for the younger or remaining children.

This is important because while you, as the custodial parent may say, “Well wait, I don’t want to do that. Why would I want to get lower child support?” The reason you want to do that is because when a child is emancipated, whether it’s administratively or by court order in the future, that child support can be retroactively modified back to the date of emancipation. So you may think I’m going to sit on this and just wait until my ex does something with it, but it could ultimately hurt you at the end of the day. So, if you determine that your child, for whom you receive child support, is in fact emancipated, it really behooves you to take those affirmative steps to complete that process so that you don’t end up with some unexpected obligation.

Now we’re going to move to the questions that we normally get. I was reviewing these questions before. It was interesting because they have a lot to do with emancipating before the age of 18. We’ll talk about these, but understand the majority … this is an exception, right, we talked about exceptions … the majority of cases in emancipation deal with either 18, not going to school and working, or should be working full-time, or in college, living away from home full-time and therefore emancipation might be appropriate. So normally we’re dealing with these 18 to 22 ages. These questions are focusing on people who are younger than 18. I will answer them, but just be aware that this may or may not be relevant to your discussion.

Can a 16-Year-Old Move Out Of The Home Without Parental Consent?

No. You need your parent’s consent to move out of the home unless you’re 18 years old. But if you are 16 and within a limited series of circumstances, it would be appropriate for you to be out of your home, you can seek emancipation of yourself from your parents. This would effectively mean that you can do and move where you want.

Again, just like we talked about with the ups comes the down. If you’re emancipated from their sphere of influence, from being in their home, from their daily control, then you’re also emancipated from their financial resources. So, you can’t go to court and say, “Let me live with my boyfriend, but make my mom and dad keep giving me money.” It doesn’t work that way. You don’t get both. It’s one or the other. In order to make that application and to establish that at such a young age, you’re emancipated, you would have to prove that you are capable of supporting yourself and that you have alternate living arrangements. The court is not going to emancipate you as a minor if you cannot support yourself and have proper shelter.

As A Parent, Can I Emancipate My Child or Can They Emancipate Themselves?

The answer to that is you can emancipate your child if you’ve met the emancipating events that we talked about a moment ago, and they can emancipate themselves if they can meet the emancipating events that we just talked about. Again, it all comes down to whether or not this child is outside the sphere of influence, what is their age, and what is their wherewithal. Some life events that could trigger an emancipation discussion would be graduating from high school or college, having a full-time job, entering into the military, getting married. These are just some of the things that could trigger emancipation. They don’t necessarily trigger emancipation.

If I Owe Child Support At Emancipation Age, Are The Arrears Still Due?

Yes. If you have a back child support obligation that is still due, you do still owe that amount mine. However, just like I talked about a moment ago, if the emancipation is retroactive, meaning, “Well, we never came to court, but actually all the kids were emancipated two years ago,” the court can, considering equity, considering it’s a court of equities so they can do whatever’s equitable, they can say that that emancipation is retroactive, thereby eliminating, reducing, or modifying some of those arrears.

Which is why I said a moment ago, it is so important when you find out that there was an emancipation, whether it was administrative or whether you yourself know that there was a life event that caused an emancipation, to act on it at that time, to act in real-time, because you really don’t want to have to deal with those credits and that argument. Because the flip side is, “Well Judge, don’t take away the back child support because I rely on that and it would be inequitable to me, the recipient of child support.” So, it’s always much cleaner to act in real-time. That’s really what I say, I think probably in the majority of these videos, is acting in real-time is always going to be cleaner and easier.

If Your Child Is Emancipated, Are There Any Options To Reverse It?

Yes. You can make an application to reverse an emancipating event. It really depends on what the circumstances are, what the facts are and how they became emancipated. So if it was an administrative emancipation, what we talked about a minute ago, then the court would be more inclined to really look with fresh eyes at whether that child should have been emancipated because it’s not just administrative on the paper. They’re looking at the facts. It’s a court of equity, so they’re looking at the facts, they’re looking at why and what happened to make a decision as to whether or not that administrative emancipation should be considered or overturned.

If the child is emancipated by a court, you can come back to court within a reasonable period of time to explain why they should be un-emancipated. For instance, did they become, unfortunately, disabled? Did they now return to college? Can they no longer support themselves for whatever reason there might be for that particular child? Those circumstances are more difficult. And certainly, the farther away in time you get from the date of emancipation, the less likely the success will be, unless there’s some kind of extreme situation that really requires a court to say, “Hey, wait a second. Let’s take a look at this pretty deep.” Those cases are rare.

What Age Do You Automatically Become Emancipated?

There’s no age in New Jersey of automatic emancipation. Although administratively, age 19 is when that first notice goes out. That is not the age of emancipation. Keep that in mind. The age of emancipation is presumptively age 18. So, when a child hits 18, graduates from high school, no longer in school, working full-time, self-sufficient, that is your first emancipating time or event. That’s when you can look the first time and say, “Hmm, should they, or shouldn’t they be?”

19 is when the notice goes out from probation. That’s administrative. And if they’re in college, then you would wait until presumably when they’re done with college, assuming they’re attending full-time and assuming that they’re maintaining their grades, there’s a lot of criteria that goes with the college application. 18 is presumptive, although not automatic. Administratively speaking, probation will not collect child support without a court order after the age of 23. I talked a moment ago about that administrative order at 19, if you prove child support should continue at that age, that would happen again, that administrative notice at age 23.

If Your Child Is Disabled, Do They Ever Automatically Become Emancipated?

As I just said, age 23 is when probation is automatically stopping the collection of child support. However, it can go past the age of 23 with a court order, which is typically granted in exceptional circumstances. Their terminology may be a little different. It may not be called child support. It may be called financial maintenance, but it’s nonetheless child support. So if you have a disabled child, who’s living full-time with mom and that child cannot be emancipated, meaning that they have no ability to self-sustain, then child support may continue, it just may not be called child support.

How old does the person have to be to be emancipated?

At least 16, and that goes back to the discussion a moment ago. Not an easy burden. It doesn’t just happen automatically. You have to really hit some high marks and check some boxes there.

Can I be emancipated at 15 or 16 if my parents are abusive?

16, assuming you can show, and you have financial wherewithal and living arrangements, et cetera. If not, and you’re under the age of 18, then it would be a child protective service initiative. So that they would come and determine whether or not it’s appropriate for therapy, for family counseling, for the removal of the child, for the temporary placement with another family member, et cetera. CPS or DYFS or DCP&P, depending on how you yourself know them, would come in in that case, even though they’re 16 in order to facilitate some family therapy and reunification.

Hopefully, those questions answered what you were looking for. If you need any further help, give us a call; (732) 240-9555. Again, I’m Abigale Stolfe, from New Jersey Family Law Group. Give us a call if you need us. Thank you. Have a good day.