Bill Giving Judges More Discretion In Child Support Contests Advances

, New Jersey Law Journal

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The New Jersey Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday endorsed legislation that would give judges greater leeway in determining when child support should be stopped or extended.

The bill, S-1567, passed without opposition and now goes to the full Senate for consideration.

It has the support of the state Administrative Office of the Courts. "We've been working on this for 15 years," AOC legislative liaison Daniel Phillips testified. "It makes the system more efficient and allows us to focus on cases that need enforcement."

The measure provides that a child can be considered emancipated if he or she is 18 and has graduated from high school, gets married, joins the armed forces, no longer attends post-secondary school, is employed full time or fails to provide the parent with copies of course grades and transcripts.

At the same time, the bill codifies a judge's authority to extent child support payments beyond the child's 18th birthday for an unmarried child who is financially dependent because of a mental or physical disability or is attending college or if there are other exceptional circumstances.

The state Supreme Court ruled in Newburgh v. Arrigo, 88 N.J. 529 (1982), that judges could order a non-custodial parent to continue paying child support after the child turns 18 if the child is attending college.

If a judge terminates child support, the bill requires the AOC's probation division to notify the recipient by mail. The recipient would have the right to file a written objection within 30 days of the notice.

No further hearings will be held if there is no written objection before the 30-day deadline expires, the bill says. The recipient may be allowed to ask for reinstatement if he or she does not receive the notice.

Even though a judge may terminate child support, that does not mean arrearages are nullified.

Phillips said that under the bill the parent charged with paying child support must erase any arrearages unless a judge adjusts the amount owed. The probation division will continue to enforce the amount until the arrearages are paid.

The legislation would not apply to child support provisions contained in orders or judgments entered by a foreign jurisdiction and registered in New Jersey for modification or enforcement.

The bill is sponsored by Sen. Shirley Turner, D-Mercer. There is no companion measure in the Assembly.

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