Parents may wish to waive or terminate child support for a variety of reasons. Some parents may have come up with an alternate arrangement for supporting their child, some may simply wish to avoid all contact with their ex-significant others, and some believe that the other parent won’t pay his or her support obligation anyway. Whatever a parent’s reason may be for waiving or terminating the support, a New Jersey appeals court has ruled that divorcing parents cannot sign a property settlement agreement that waives or terminates a parent’s child support obligation.
In Patetta v. Patetta, 358 N.J. Super. 90 (App. Div. 2003), divorcing parents who shared three children signed a property settlement agreement that was incorporated into their final judgment of divorce. The agreement provided that Father was to pay $50 per week in child support for each child. When one child emancipated, which they defined as turning 18, getting married, passing away, or starting a full-time job, Father’s support obligation would be reduced by $50 per week. When their oldest child turned 18, Father sought to emancipate him and reduce his child support obligation, as per the terms of the property settlement agreement. Mother protested, arguing that the child was still living at home and attending community college. The trial court agreed with Mother, and refused to emancipate the child or reduce Father’s child support obligation. Father then appealed.
On appeal, the appellate court found that the question of whether a child is emancipated depends on certain facts, and that college attendance was a basis for continuing a parent’s child support obligation beyond the age of majority. The court also ruled that the right to support belongs to the child, not the parent, so that the parent cannot waive or terminate the child’s right to support in a divorce property settlement agreement.
Furthermore, in the 2017 decision of Conte v. Ainsworth, N.J. Super. App. Div., Docket No. A-3337-15T1, August 31, 2017, the New Jersey Appellate Division reconfirmed the ruling in Patetta. In Conte, Father and Mother signed a property settlement agreement as part of their divorce. This agreement provided that Father would pay weekly child support for their daughter until she was emancipated, which they defined as the daughter completing her college education. After the child graduated from college and entered a master’s program, Father reduced his child support payments and then sought to emancipate the child in court. In response, Mother asked for continued child support payments and for Father to contribute to college expenses. The trial court emancipated the child according to the terms of the property settlement agreement, and Mother appealed. The appellate court reversed the trial court’s finding of emancipation and ruled that the parties’ property settlement agreement could not waive the child’s right to support, and that the trial judge must consider facts outside the agreement in order to determine if the child was emancipated.
Child support cases are often complicated and stressful, whether you are establishing, modifying, or enforcing your child support obligation. No matter how complex the issues in your case may be, we are here to help. The attorneys of Argentino Family Law & Child Advocacy, LLC, have handled cases involving all aspects of divorce, child custody, and family law, as well as cases involving other matters related to families and children. Please contact the experienced New Jersey family and child lawyers at our office if you have any legal questions about children and your family.