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Child Support - Will Someone Just Tell Me When I Can Stop Paying It?

Posted by attorney James de Stefano

After what may have been a lengthy and/or difficult divorce, the smoke has cleared and life has finally returned to "normal." The last thing you want to think about is having to someday readdress any of the legal issues you just finished negotiating down to the last detail. You certainly don't want to go back to court. However, if you pay child support, the termination date is not as straightforward as you may think. Many people wrongfully assume that once a child turns 18, child support ends. Not so.

Others understand that various life events may declare their child emancipated, thereby terminating their support obligations, but they assume that they can simply stop making the payments upon the occurrence of any of those events regardless of whether their ex agrees that support should end and without involving the court system in their lives. Again, not so - especially if you pay support through the county probation department. The probation department will usually garnish your wages (if you pay via wage garnishment) or increase your arrearages in their system unless and until a judge tells them to do otherwise. This can possibly continue through your child's adulthood if they never receive a court order telling them to stop.

In New Jersey, child support does not automatically end because of a specific event. YOU have to take the initiative to obtain the court's permission to stop making payments. If your ex is cooperative and you are both on the same page, this can be very simple. You can both sign a Consent Order that officially declares your child emancipated and submit it to the court for the judge's signature and "stamp of approval." However, if you and your ex do not agree, you may need to file a Motion with the court to request that your child be declared emancipated and to officially terminate child support. Until then, you are legally obligated to keep paying that support.

New Jersey courts recognize that child support can be terminated once your child is officially emancipated. If a skilled matrimonial lawyer drafted your Settlement Agreement, the child support section will include a detailed description of which life events will trigger emancipation. Examples of such events are your child reaching eighteen and graduating from high school (whichever is later) assuming that your child does not enroll in college full-time, your child discontinuing full-time college, joining the armed forces or getting married. These are just a few examples, but there are many exceptions to these examples. Every case is unique.

But again, just beacuse your Settlement Agreement or court order states that your child is emancipated upon a certain event does not mean that you can take it upon yourself to stop paying when the event occurs. You must obtain a court order that formally emancipates your child and terminates your obligation to support him or her.

Contact a competent attorney, who can help you understand how the law may apply to your facts and what your best course of action would be.

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