Edward R. Weinstein, Esq.

Under New Jersey Divorce Law, When Are Adult yet Unemancipated Child Responsible for Their Own Behavior Towards Their Parents?

It is hard to forget the New Jersey high school student who sued her parents for child support and tuition for her private schooling. In my nearly 20 years as a New Jersey divorce attorney, only the Jim McGreevey scandal was more controversial.

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As a New Jersey divorce lawyer, it is essential that always keep a close eye on any new developments in NJ child custody law. Last Friday a new decision came down that has brought a semblance of common sense to an area of New Jersey divorce law that baffled the nation. When are adult children responsible for their own behavior? Let’s explore.

The Facts:

After a 17 year marriage, the parties divorced in 2010. At that time they had three children, ages 16, 13 and 10. While the father had a solid relationship with the two youngest children, he did not with the oldest child.

In the Matrimonial Settlement Agreement the father agreed to help pay towards the each child’s college education, respectively. However, part of the settlement agreement was that the oldest child would attend reunification therapy with his father in order to make things right between them. The father made repeated overtures to his son to attend family therapy. However, as the child refused to cooperate with reunification therapy, the relationship remained unhealthy. Judge Lawrence Jones acknowledged in his decision that the “emotional wounds” were left untreated.

The father continued his quest to engage in joint, family therapy with his son, but to no avail.

The Decision:

Since the oldest child refused to attend therapy, the father moved in a New Jersey family court to compel the child to attend therapy or otherwise the father should not be obligated to keep paying towards college tuition.

The Court found that the child was not making any effort to rehabilitate his relationship with his father. However, the child was demanding that his father continue to help pay his college tuition. Judge Jones found this to be inherently unfair. Thus, the Court ruled that the child must attend family counseling with his father if he wanted to continue to receive dad’s financial assistance.

The Court’s Reasoning:

The Court found that while the oldest child is technically unemanicpated under New Jersey divorce law, he is now a man who must be accountable for his own actions. The Court went on adding that, “a parent-child relationship must be a two-way street”, particularly when the child wants the parent to continue to financially support them.

Finally, Judge Jones took into consideration the younger children and their upcoming needs for financial assistance. To that end, the Court ordered both parents to pay into a saving account in order to protect payment of their future college costs.

My Take on This Case:

First, I totally agree that this adult child does not have an inalienable right to be support by a parent they refuse to even attempt to have a relationship with. While I am speculating, I feel that Judge Jones may have had the Rachel Channing case in his mind when rendering this decision.

Second, I like that the Court took a global approach as all three children’s needs were equally addressed. Just because one child happens to be the oldest (and is the only kid of the three who refuses to give dad a chance at a relationship) does not mean that the other two should suffer. Therefore, the Court protected each child.

As my office handles many post-divorce applications regarding payment of college for children of divorce, please never hesitate to contact my office if you or a loved one is in a similar situation.