How Long Do I Have to Pay Child Support in New Jersey?

Each state has different guidelines that specify how long child support must be paid. In many cases, the support obligation ends when the child turns 18 or finished high school. New Jersey’s child support obligation laws are more complex than the laws on child support in other states.

Child Support Guidelines

New Jersey uses child support guidelines to determine the proper amount of child support to award. The guidelines use an estimate of the percentage of the parents’ net income while intact families to determine the appropriate amount of support to award.

Purpose of Child Support

New Jersey recognizes that both parents have the continuous duty to support their children, children are entitled to a share in the income of both of their parents and that children should not have to suffer economically because of their divorce or being born out of wedlock. Child support also helps prevent children from being reliant on state welfare benefits.

Minimum Support Obligation

support must be paid until the child is at least age 18 and is not in school. If a child is emancipated, the support obligation ends at that point in time.

Child Support Order

The time that individuals are required to pay financial support can be different even in similar cases with similar facts. This is because if the child support order declares how long child support will remain in effect, the parties are required to abide by this provision. This may take the form of an agreement in writing between the parents during divorce, separation or the severance of their relationship.

Generally, a couple can agree on an amount of child support and when the child support will end. They can also agree on the circumstances under which emancipation will be assumed. This may include a clause that states that financial support ends once the child graduates college, gets married or starts working full-time. Absent such an agreement and provisions of this nature, the court may be required to decide when support ends.


While many people assume that a child who reaches the age of 18 is automatically emancipated, this is not the case in New Jersey. Children may become emancipated when they are no longer reliant on their parents. For example, a child may move out of his parent’s home. He or she may have a full-time job that pays for all expenses. He or she may get married. In contrast, some children are over the age of 18 and are still reliant on their parents’ support. The support obligation can continue after the age of 18 in these situations.

College Expenses

If divorcing parents do not agree on whether child support should include paying for college expenses, the family court can decide the issue. There is a strong preference in New Jersey for parents to pay college expenses if they are financially able to do so. However, the court considers many factors in making this decision, including how reasonable it is to expect such payments, the amount of college educations, the financial resources of both parties, the child’s aptitude for a specific educational path, the child’s financial resources, other income of the child, the relationship between the child and the paying parent and the availability of financial aid. If child support is awarded to help pay for college expenses, the child support guidelines are not used since they include duplicative expenses, such as room and board. However, the guidelines can be used to determine the support amount for children who commute to college, at the court’s discretion.

Motion for Emancipation

A parent who believes that child support is no longer necessary because the child has become self-reliant can file a petition with the court to declare that the child is emancipated and no longer entitled to child support. When making this determination, the court considers the child’s needs, interests and independent resources. Additionally, the court can consider the financial abilities of the parents, the family’s reasonable expectations and any other relevant factor.

Nonpayment of Support

When child support is not paid, it becomes an arrearage. The recipient parent can ask the court to enforce the order. The court has a number of options to try to enforce payment, including suspending the parent’s driver’s license or professional license, imposing a lien on real estate that the parent owns and ordering the parent to serve jail time for such failure to pay.
A family law lawyer can assist parents who are seeking to enforce a child support order or would like to make a change to an existing order.

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Disclaimer: Every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication at the time it was written. It is not intended to provide legal advice or suggest a guaranteed outcome as individual situations will differ and the law may have changed since publication. Readers considering legal action should consult with an experienced lawyer to understand current laws they may affect a case.

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