What does the Statute do?
The new Child Support Termination Statute (N.J.S.A. 2A:17-56.67) was signed in to law by Governor Christie on January 19, 2016 and went in to effect on February 1, 2017. This statute implements a presumption that child support should terminate once a child reaches age 19, unless certain factors are met. Furthermore, under no circumstances can child support continue beyond the age of 23. However, this statute does not address emancipation (a child support obligation through the Probation Department may terminate but the parents may have a continuing duty to provide additional financial maintenance for a child who is not emancipated, regardless of their age, under certain circumstances). As parents may have continuing duties to provide financial maintenance for their children notwithstanding the language in the Child Support Termination Statute, the Statute may be thought of as a mechanism for the Probation Department to automatically terminate a child support obligation and relieve the Probation Department of handling cases wherein child support arrears continue to accrue unnecessarily because parties (or the court) has not otherwise terminated the child support obligation. Since New Jersey will receive more federal funding as a result of a higher collection rate for child support obligations, this statute ensures the Probation Department will be able to close child support accounts automatically without waiting for a court order.
Presumption of Child Support Termination at Age 19
The Statute creates a presumption that once a child reaches the age of nineteen (19), the obligation to pay child support for that child terminates by operation of law, without the necessity of a court order. There are several exceptions to this automatic termination: (1) a court order specifies another date for the termination of the obligation to pay child support, which cannot exceed the date the child turns age twenty-three (23); (2) the Custodial Parent submits a written request seeking the continuation of the child support obligation prior to the child reaching the age of 19 along with a proposed future date for the child support termination (such as the date the child is expected to graduate from college or turn twenty-three years old), using specific forms promulgated by the Administrative Office of the Courts along with supporting documentation; (3) the child receiving support is an out-of-home placement through the Division of Child Protection and Permanency.
No Child Support Obligation after Age 23 (parents may have other financial obligations though)
The obligation to pay child support terminates by operation of law when the child reaches the age of twenty-three (23), even if the Custodial Parent provided the required proofs or a Court Order specifies a later date for child support termination. This termination includes a termination of the obligation to provide medical insurance coverage for the child. However, the statute does not prevent a child who is beyond the age of 23 from seeking a court order requirement the payment of other forms of financial maintenance or reimbursement from one or both parents so long as it is not “payable or enforceable as child support.” Additionally, either parent or the child may apply to the court to convert a child support obligation to another form of financial maintenance for a child beyond the age of 23 due to “exceptional circumstances” (such as a mental or physical disability).
Written Form and/or Motion Required to Continue Child Support (depending on circumstances)
A Custodial Parent may seek to extend the child support obligation for a child beyond the age of nineteen (19) by showing one of the following, with supporting documentation: (1) the child is still enrolled in high school or other secondary educational program; (2) the child is enrolled as a full-time student in a post-secondary educational program; (3) the child has a physical or mental disability (as determined by a federal or state governmental agency, the disability must have existed prior to the child reaching age 19, and the child requires continued child support as a result of the disability). If the Court determines the request form and supporting documentation submitted by the Custodial Parent establish sufficient proof to continue child support beyond age 19, the presumption of child support termination will have been rebutted. The Court will then issue an order establishing the new prospective date of child support termination. If the Noncustodial Parent disagrees with the Court’s Order continuing child support, the Noncustodial parent may file a motion with the court “at any time” to seek relief from their child support obligation. It is important to note the noncustodial parent will not have access to the written form and supporting documentation submitted by the custodial parent seeking to continue child support beyond the age of 19.
A Custodial Parent may also file a motion with the Court seeking to extend the child support obligation beyond the date of the child’s 19th birthday “due to exceptional circumstances as may be approved by the court.” This would presumably apply in scenarios where the child does not satisfy one of the enumerated rebuttal options set forth in the statute, but where the child would otherwise remain unemancipated and requiring child support pursuant to existing case law.
Notices from Probation
Before the child reaches age 19, the Probation Department will send out notices to both parents (provided the Probation Department is administering the child support obligation). These notices will include information about the impending child support termination as well as the request form to facilitate the continuation of child support beyond the child’s 19th birthday. The first notice will be sent out 180 days before the child’s 19th birthday (or other proposed termination date). If no response is received, the Probation Department will send a second notice 90 days before the child’s 19th birthday (or other proposed termination date). The parties will be able to sign up for text, e-mail, and telephonic notifications as well “to the extent feasible.”
All child support orders (including Matrimonial Settlement Agreements that are incorporated into Judgments of Divorce, FD Orders, Consent Orders, etc.) shall include information regarding the termination of the child support obligations as set forth in the statute.
If the parties have multiple children and the corresponding child support obligation is “unallocated” (meaning the child support amount does not specify the amount of child support for each child), and one child’s child support obligation is terminated pursuant to the statute, the child support obligation for the remaining children shall continue in full. This means there shall be no reduction in child support even though one of the children is no longer eligible to receive a child support obligation under the statute. Since most child support calculations are unallocated, this will be the scenario for most parents with multiple children. Each party may file an application with the court to adjust the remaining child support amount for the other children.
If the child support obligation for the parties’ multiple children is allocated as to each child and the child support obligation for one of the children is terminated pursuant to the statute, the amount of the child support obligation shall be adjusted to reflect the amount allocated for the remaining child or children. Either party may file an application with the court to adjust the remaining child support amount for the other children.
If the child support obligation is terminated pursuant to the statute, any arrears that have been accrued prior to the date of the termination shall remain due and enforceable through the Probation Department. If there is no other child support obligation (such as the parties do not have any other children for which a child support obligation continues to be owed), the arrears shall be paid at the rate of the full amount of the child support obligation prior to the termination, plus any arrears repayment component. This means there will not be any change in the child support payment owed each week. The full amount of the child support payment (and arrears component) will be applied towards the outstanding arrears obligation, until the arrears are paid in full.
Foreign (including out of state) Child Support Orders
This statute does not apply to child support provisions contained in orders or judgments entered by a foreign jurisdiction and registered in New Jersey for modification or enforcement pursuant to the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (UIFSA, N.J.S.A. 2A:4-30.65, et. Seq.) or other related/comparable laws.
What the Statute Does NOT do
The Statute explicitly states it does not do the following:
- Relieve a parent from paying support or other costs while a child is enrolled full-time in a post-secondary education program.
- Prohibit the Probation Department from closing their case or terminating their supervision of a child support order pursuant to the existing procedures/regulations/Rules of Court/etc.
- Prohibit any party from filing an application with the Court seeking termination of a child support order for any cause other than those provided in this statute.
- Prohibit a party from consenting to a specific termination date for child support that does not exceed the date the child reaches age 23. The parties may still make other financial arrangements for the child after age 23 so long as those arrangements are not designated as “child support” (subject to court approval).
- Prohibit the obligor/noncustodial parent from filing a motion with the court to terminate child support for good cause prior to the child reaching age 19. The obligor can also contest the extension of child support for a child beyond the age of 19.
Additionally, and importantly, the Statute does not address emancipation or, in any way, alter existing laws regarding emancipation. The legislature affirmatively removed any references to “emancipation” since the statute was intended to “relate only to the obligation to pay child support, and not to other parental duties, rights, and responsibilities.” By way of examples only, if a child reaches age 18 and would otherwise be emancipated (such as completing high school and not attending college full-time and therefore assuming the child is outside of the parental sphere of influence), the obligor/noncustodial parent may still file an application to emancipate the child (and terminate child support accordingly) prior to the child reaching age 19. Similarly, if the child is over the age of 23 but still within the parental sphere of influence (such as by being mentally or physically disabled), the Custodial Parent may file an application to continue the parties’ obligations to provide some form of ongoing financial maintenance for the child, so long as it is not designated as “child support.”
The Statute does not limit a party’s ability to return to Court to seek emancipation of a child or a modification of child support, “at any time.” A party filing such an application with the Court would be bound by existing case law, such as showing a change in circumstances warranting the requested relief. While the statutory language referring to a party filing such a motion “at any time” appears to be limited to a noncustodial parent (presumably because the custodial parent has the obligation and opportunity to file the written request to continue child support), it is unlikely a court would read the statute to preclude a custodial parent from seeking a modification of child support after the child reaches age 19 (although that does appear to be the strict interpretation of the statute).
What to do
If you have a child support obligation that is collected and enforced through the Probation Department, you will receive two notices the year before your child turns 19 (one notice will be sent to you 180 days before the child’s 19th birthday, the second notice will be sent 90 days before). These notices will have forms you will need to complete and submit (along with corresponding proof) if you wish the child support to continue past the child’s 19th birthday. Regardless as to whether you are the custodial parent or the noncustodial parent, you should schedule a consultation with a family law attorney to discuss your options and the ramifications of the new Child Support Termination Statute on your case.