While seemingly a simple question – when does a child become emancipated for child support purposes – the answer is not. The emancipation of a minor depends on a variety of circumstances. The Child Support Standards Act provides that a child becomes emancipated upon reaching the age of 21, joining the military, or being married. The child may also become constructively emancipated by willingly abandoning his/her parent(s) and withdrawing from parental supervision and control.
Finally, a child may become emancipated if working full-time and earning sufficient income to be economically independent of the parents. Mere full-time employment is not enough, as emancipation requires economic independence from the child's parents. Thus, even where a child is working full time but still relies on a parent for significant economic support, such as paying for utilities, food, car insurance, medical insurance and the like, the child cannot be considered economically independent, and thus is not emancipated.
This is true even where the child is residing with neither of the parties, so long as the child is still dependent on one of the parties for a significant portion of his or her support. Thus, in addressing the issue of whether a child under the age of 21 is emancipated, it is important to examine the child's work hours and income, as well as all of his/her needs and expenses and how those needs and expenses are being met.