New York City Court Rules on Child Support Dispute Involving Adoption Subsidies, Claims of Constructive Emancipation

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Children are entitled to support from their parents or guardians, and New York family law provides methods for ensuring that such support is available. A typical child support order remains in effect until a court orders otherwise, or until the child reaches a point where they no longer need support.

A New York City court recently considered a child support dispute, BT v. AM, involving an adoptive parent and a court-appointed guardian. The parent claimed that they were no longer obligated to pay child support because of the child’s “constructive emancipation.” The guardian argued that the parent was still entitled to receive an adoption subsidy from the government, and should pay that amount as child support. The court ordered the parent to pay that amount, and remanded the case to family court to review the parent’s continued eligibility for the subsidy.

Both federal and state law provide funding to assist adoptive parents. In New York City, the Administration for Children’s Services (ACS) provides monthly support to adoptive parents with children who have been determined to be “handicapped” or “hard to place.” A major issue in the BT case, mentioned above, is whether an adoptive parent may continue to receive the subsidy—or whether they must continue to receive it—if the child no longer lives with them.

Emancipation refers to the legal process of releasing a minor from the care of their parents or guardians, and therefore releasing the parents or guardians from the duty of supporting them. This usually requires a court order, but New York has recognized a situation called “constructive emancipation.” A New York appellate court recently described it as a situation in which “a child of employable age and in full possession of his or her faculties” voluntarily leaves the care of their parents or guardians, without their parents’ or guardians’ consent. The result of constructive emancipation is that the child “forfeits the right to demand support.”

The respondent in the BT case, AM, adopted the child in 2014 after fostering him for several years. ACS began providing her with a monthly adoption subsidy shortly afterwards. The child’s godmother, BT, filed a petition for guardianship in late 2015, and the child began living with her full-time in early 2016. A court granted the guardianship petition without opposition from AM. AM informed ACS that the child was no longer living with her, and that she wanted to suspend the subsidy payments. ACS suspended all payments in April 2016. BT also petitioned the family court to order AM to pay child support.

AM claimed constructive emancipation as a defense to any child support obligation. She also argued that it would have been illegal for her to continue receiving the adoption subsidy after the child moved out of her home. The court ruled that she was still obligated to pay child support in the amount of the adoption subsidy. It noted that, while the law states that only an adoptive parent may receive the subsidy, nothing says “that the child [must] continue to reside with the adoptive parent in order for the subsidy to continue.” It ordered AM to pay child support in the amount of the subsidy “for so long as [she] remains eligible to receive” it.

New York City family law cases, including divorces, child support disputes, and other matters, can be legally complicated and emotionally difficult. For over thirty years, family attorney Ingrid Gherman has guided clients through New York family law proceedings. Please contact us online or at (212) 941-0767 today to schedule a confidential consultation with a member of our team.

More Blog Posts:

Custody Litigation in New York and Older Children, New York Divorce Attorney Blog, April 5, 2018

New York Woman Loses Custody of Children After Hospital Makes Report to Child Protective Services, New York Divorce Attorney Blog, September 18, 2017

New York Maintains Complicated Laws Regarding the Secrecy of Adoption Records, New York Divorce Attorney Blog, May 1, 2017