Emancipation May Release a Parent from a Child Support Obligation Under New York Law

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Children are entitled to support from their parent(s) or guardian(s) (or “parents” as a shorthand) until they reach the age of majority, or until one or more specific events occur. They are also obligated to abide by their parents’ decisions regarding their health, education, and welfare. Emancipation is the process by which a minor may legally separate themselves from their parents, meaning that they are no longer subject to their control and also no longer entitled to their support. New York, unlike many states, has no formal emancipation procedures, but state law identifies situations in which a minor may be deemed emancipated. The issue may arise in New York when a parent seeks to terminate a child support obligation for an emancipated child. The parent has the burden of establishing that the child meets the legal standard for emancipation.

In about half of the states in the U.S., a minor may petition a court for an emancipation order. In states without a defined procedure for emancipation, courts may make a determination based on the totality of the child’s circumstances. Emancipation does not allow a child to engage in acts with a specific, legally-defined age limit, such as voting or enlisting in the military (age 18), or buying or consuming alcohol (age 21).

Many states only require parents to provide financial and other support to their children until they reach the age of majority. In New York, the obligation continues until the child turns 21, unless the child marries, joins the military, or is emancipated before then. If a child receives public assistance, the parents may be obligated to reimburse the state. A New York court may consider emancipation in terms of the child’s ability to live independently, which releases the child from the parents’ authority, or in terms of the child’s abandonment of the parents, which releases the parents from further support obligations.

A child seeking emancipation must be at least 16 and must be able to show that they live apart from their parents on a permanent basis, receive no support from them aside from court-ordered support, and have a job or other means of supporting themselves. A parent may be able to have a child declared emancipated if the child refuses to abide by the parent’s reasonable demands and discipline, or if the child leaves the parent’s home without a good reason. The New York Court of Appeals identified this as “constructive emancipation” in two decisions from the 1970s, Roe v. Doe and Parker v. Stage. If the child leaves for a good reason, such as abuse or neglect, the parents may still be obligated to pay support.

In situations where a parent is claiming that their support obligation should be terminated due to emancipation, the burden is on the parent to present evidence in support of such a finding. A New York appellate court ruled earlier this year in Oneida Co. Dept. of Soc. Svcs. v. Christman that a father had failed to establish abandonment by the child. The court noted that the record established that he had continued to provide financial support to the child after the child moved out, and that the two had continued to speak to each other throughout the court proceedings.

Ingrid Gherman has 30 years of experience practicing in emancipation and other areas of family law in the greater New York City area. We help people deal with difficult legal problems involving divorce, child custody, and visitation, among others. To schedule a confidential consultation with a member of our team, contact us today online or at (212) 941-0767.

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Custody Disputes Between Parents and Non-Parent Relatives in New York, New York Divorce Attorney Blog, January 8, 2015

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