The question of when your child is emancipated is extremely fact sensitive. As an example of this, the Appellate Division recently released an unpublished opinion Rybak-Petrolle v. Karcz. In that case the parties had a 21 year old son who was attending Berkley College with online classes and working full time. The trial judge reasoned that the child was not pursuing a college education with reasonable diligence on a normally continuous basis as required by the parties’ Settlement Agreement and, therefore, emancipated the child. The Appellate Division reversed the trial court finding that the trial judge should have conducted a hearing to determine whether the parties’ son was emancipated. The Appellate Division reaffirmed the principle that the essential inquiry in determining whether a child is emancipated is whether “the child has moved ‘beyond the sphere of influence and responsibility exercised by a parent and obtained an independent status of his or her own.’” Rybak-Petrolle (quoting Dolce v. Dolce, 383 N.J. Super.11, 17-18 (App. Div. 2006)). The Appellate Division further opined that “the judge made no findings as to the child’s needs and abilities, how many course credits he is taking, his total expenses for school, how many hours he is working, how much he earns, whether his earnings are sufficient to cover the cost of school and living expenses, whether there were scholarships or financial aid packages applied for and received, and other value factors.”
The lesson to be learned from this case is that emancipation depends on the facts and circumstances. Moreover, the parties’ Settlement Agreement can have a substantial impact on the determination of emancipation.