Emancipation of a Child Terminates Child Support

Llewelyn v. Shewchuk, 440 N.J. Super. 207 (App. Div. 2015).  Orders directing that one parent in a divorce provide payments of child support terminate once the child become emancipated.  Yesterday’s opinion by Judge Rothstadt addresses some of the specific legal principles applicable in this area.

The case was a bit unusual because the appellant, the allegedly emancipated child, was not a party to the matrimonial action and was not granted leave to intervene.  Nonetheless, she appealed the Family Part’s conclusion, in response to a motion filed by her adoptive father and joined in by her natural mother, the two parties to the matrimonial case, that she had been emancipated.

The facts were these.  Adrianna Shewchuk, the appellant, was born in 1992 to her mother, plaintiff in this case, and Adrianna’s biological father.  Two years later, plaintiff and defendant married, and defendant adopted Adrianna.  In 2002, the parties got divorced.  Plaintiff was the parent of primary residence and defendant was to pay child support.

In 2013, defendant moved to have Adrianna declared emancipated.  He offered evidence that she had left plaintiff’s home to move in with her biological father, was not in school, and was working.  Plaintiff eventually joined in that motion.  Adrianna submitted two certifications, neither of which convincingly rebutted defendant’s allegations that, in the total picture, she was being supported by others and should be considered emancipated, although she did show that she was attending college part-time.  Accordingly, the Family Part judge ruled that Adrianna had been emancipated.  She appealed, but the Appellate Division affirmed, applying deference to the findings of fact by the Family Part.

Judge Rothstadt recognized that children have a right to support, and that reaching age 18 does not automatically mean that a chiild is emancipated, though that age is “prima facie, but not conclusive, proof of emancipation.”  Nor can a parent simply cast off the obligation to provide child support, and that is so even where, as here, both parents agree to that request.  The decision whether a child is emancipated is fact-sensitive and often requires a plenary hearing, especially when there is a “genuine and substantial factual dispute.”

Here, however, there was no need for a plenary hearing because the facts were undisputed.  Though Adrianna presented evidence that she was being treated for depression and anxiety, “there was no evidence her issues interfered with her ability to be independent.”  She no longer needed support from her parents, but instead “voluntarily relied upon support provided by others who were not under any legal obligation to provide her with anything,” such as the wife of her biological father.  Therefore, Judge Rothstadt upheld the ruling of the Family Part that Adrianna had been emancipated.