Parents are obligated to financially support their children until the child reaches age 21 or is otherwise emancipated. Grounds for emancipation prior to the child reaching age 21 include:
1. Marriage (provided that the child is not receiving public assistance);
2. Military Service;
3. Full-time gainful employment and self-supporting (economically independent / from the parents);
4. Refusal to comply with reasonable parental rules.
Emancipation cases, especially in claims of a child being self-supporting, are very fact-specific and often require a detailed analysis of the child’s lifestyle. The precise definition of “self-supporting” may vary depending on the case. Economic realities have caused the courts to change their interpretation of these laws recently. Prior to the recent economic downturn, if the court were presented with a child over the age of 18 who was employed full-time, the child would usually be deemed to be emancipated. The courts have realized that full-time employment may not mean that a child is economically independent and, as a result, a child’s full-time employment without economic independence is insufficient to deem the child to be emancipated.
A claim that a child is emancipated by virtue of a refusal to comply with reasonable parental rules or demands may be grounds for emancipation but this is also a very fact-specific issue. Often these cases involve a child voluntarily abandoning the home for an extended period of time.
Emancipation is not necessarily a permanent determination. A child can be deemed emancipated but later deemed unemancipated due to a subsequent change. For instance, a child who is deemed emancipated due to refusal to comply with reasonable parental demands may later be deemed unemancipated if the child later acts appropriately.
It is also of great importance to understand that the party seeking to deem the child emancipated has the burden of proving the grounds for the emancipation. This is a very high burden and courts are wary of finding a child to be emancipated.