What happens to child support when my child goes to college?

child support college

Graduating high school is a big milestone for your child, as well as for you. It marks the end of one era and the beginning of another. As proud as you surely are, you may be wondering what impact your child going off to college will have on your child support payments. 

Like many other issues dealing with child support, the answer is complex and involves a number of factors.

What is emancipation?

Loosely put, emancipation refers to that moment in a young adult’s life where neither parent is financially responsible for their child.  It varies from state to state. In New Jersey, there is an assumption that a child is emancipated at the age of nineteen. But there are so many exceptions that this age is almost meaningless.  The most common exception is attendance of the child at college.

When is emancipation?

New Jersey requires the parent paying child support to make payments until their child is legally emancipated. So what does that mean? According to the Termination of Child Support Law, signed into effect in 2016, child support obligations are terminated when a child:

  • reaches the age of nineteen
  • enters military service
  • gets married

Exceptions to the rules

While the age of nineteen is a very specific line to draw, there are some notable exceptions, including:

  • The child is still enrolled in high school
  • The child is enrolled full-time in a post-secondary educational program
  • The child has a physical or mental disability as determined by a federal or state agency that existed prior to the child’s reaching the age of 19 and requires continued child support

While child support while a child completes high school or support for a child with disabilities is common among the states, New Jersey is one of the few states requiring child support to continue through post-secondary education. Post-secondary education includes vocational training and college. 

Educational expenses may include tuition, room and board, and general living expenses. Because these expenses can be duplicative of basic child support, it is often necessary to reduce direct child support. 

The bottom line

Nineteen is the presumptive age to terminate child support.   That said, a child’s attendance at college is a condition that will cause child support to continue.  In this case, however, child support generally decreases. On the other hand, college contribution – another form of child support in New Jersey – will almost certainly increase.

Overall, college contribution and the relationship to child support is one of the most complex and individualized issues in post-judgment divorce law.  It requires a thoughtful examination of all the facts at hand, including the child’s ability to contribute to his or her own expenses.

One more word about child support for young adults:  The Termination of Child Support Law caps child support payments at the age of 23.  So, unless you’ve made a special qualifying request, child support terminates when the child reaches the age of 23.  If additional support is needed, it is called “Continued Support” by the courts.

Child support is a complex calculation in New Jersey, taking a range of ever-evolving factors into consideration. To make sure you’re working with the most accurate information, contact our experienced family law attorneys at Keith Family Law

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