On February 1, 2017, the New Jersey child support statute “Termination of Obligation to Pay Child Support” went into effect. Governor Chris Christie signed the statute into law on January 19, 2016 and the new statute will affect all orders issued before and after the February 1 effective date.
A child’s 18th birthday is considered the legal age of emancipation from their parents and therefore the end of child support. Whereas previously, parties seeking termination of child support had to obtain a formal court order to end their obligation, the new statute terminates child support automatically by operation of law when a child reaches the age of 19. Termination also applies if the child enters the military, gets married, or passes away.
Under the new law, certain conditions justify the continuation of child support after the child turns 19, but support is capped at age 23. A court order may specify another age for termination or before the child’s 19th birthday, a parent may submit a written request to the court to seek continuation of child support. Another exception to the age cap are children in out-of-home placement through the Division of Child Protection and Permanency in the Department of Children and Families.
If a custodial parent wishes to submit a written request for continued child support, the statute specifies the circumstances under which a child over the age of 19 will be eligible. These include:
- The existence of exceptional circumstances approved by the court
- The child is still in high school or another secondary educational program
- The child is enrolled in a post-secondary education program full-time during some part of each of any five calendar months of the year
- A federal or state agency has determined that the child has a physical or mental disability. This disability had to exist before the child’s 19th birthday and require the continuance of child support.
For disabled children and others with exceptional circumstances, the statute provides for support beyond the cap of age 23. A parent may apply for a court order that converts the obligation of child support to another form of financial maintenance.
Parents of a disabled child that want to maximize the child’s access to governmental benefits should investigate the use of a special needs trust for depositing any child support or financial maintenance payments. There is a means test for the federal disability program of Supplemental Security Income (SSI). The special needs trust prevents disqualification for SSI because child support belongs to the child and will in most cases disqualify the child for government benefits in the state of New Jersey.
Another trust option that ensures the child remains eligible for government benefits is the pooled trust, which is set up and managed by a third-party non-profit organization instead of the parents, grandparents, or guardian. Anyone eligible for SSI is also automatically qualified for Medicaid and possibly for other programs. Parents of children with special needs must be meticulous in planning for child support payments and continued maintenance payments beyond the child’s 23rd birthday.
Mendham Child Support Lawyers at Lyons & Associates, P.C. Provide Experienced Counsel for Clients with Special Needs Children
At Lyons & Associates, P.C., we put the needs of you and your family first. Our approach is client centered, making sure that together we achieve all your legal goals. An initial consultation with one of our child support lawyers in Mendham is free and confidential. Call us today at 908-575-9777 to schedule an appointment or contact us online.