It is the desire of almost every child to grow into an independent adult. In some cases, teenagers follow their wishes in order to be free from their parents. For instance, they may leave their parents’ homes to live as independent adults. When a teenager becomes financially independent, his parent may want to withdraw his financial support for the child. To achieve this, the parent has to initiate a legal process. This process is known as constructive emancipation. The process can be applicable in the following circumstances:
• When the parent wants to terminate a previous court order requiring child support. Here, the parent must demonstrate to the court the change of circumstances that necessitate the termination. If the court finds that no substantial changes have occurred since the date of the child support order, the termination is likely to be denied.
• When the parent is defending himself against a new application requiring child support.
Constructive emancipation for child support in New York is based on a combination of the Child Support Standards Act and the related case law. The law in New York requires parents to provide support to their children up to age 21. However, some factors may necessitate the emancipation to occur earlier than age 21. They include:
• If the child attains economic independence.
• If the child become a military officer.
• If the child decides to get married.
• If the need to avoid parental control prompts the child to voluntarily leave his parent’s home without the parent’s permission.
Aspects of Constructive Emancipation
There are two aspects of constructive emancipation: economic independence and abandonment cases. In New York, economic independence cases are based on the Child Support Standards Act, and they are easier to prove than abandonment cases. During the economic independence cases, the courts in New York seek to determine if the child earns adequate income to cater for his needs. If the child still depends on parents for food, insurance, and other basic needs, then he is not emancipated even if he has attained the age of employment. Additionally, a child who is in need of financial help from parents may not be deemed emancipated even if he does not reside with any of his parents.
In comparison with economic independence cases, abandonments cases are more subjective and complicated in nature. According to the case law in New York, the parent’s right to custody and the child’s right to support should have a reciprocal relationship. The law allows a custodial parent to impose reasonable rules that the child should obey while under his parent’s custody. However, if the child decides to leave the custodial parent’s home as a way of avoiding such rules, it may amount to abandonment. In this case, the court may seek to establish whether or not the child left against the custodial parent’s wish.
The courts in New York also apply constructive emancipation doctrine in cases where a child declines visitation and communication with a noncustodial parent with no valid reason. In most cases, the refusal to visit or contact the noncustodial parent results in parental alienation. The parent has the right to claim abandonment in such cases. If the court establishes that the custodial parent is the cause of the poor relationship between the child and the noncustodial parent, then the court may exempt the noncustodial parent from supporting the child. The exemption is even more likely if the relationship is destroyed beyond repair.
Since the broken relationship between the noncustodial parent and the child may also be caused by other factors, the courts in New York try to explore these factors when dealing with abandonment cases. Some of the questions to which the courts seek answers during the cases include:
• Who was responsible for the child’s withdrawal?
• Has the noncustodial parent tried to reconcile with the child?
• Did the withdrawal result from a good cause?
If the court establishes that the noncustodial parent is responsible for the broken relationship, the chances of terminating the child support become very slim. According to the case law in New York, a noncustodial parent cannot claim abandonment if he or she is found to be responsible for the broken relationship with the child. However, if the court is persuaded that the child abandoned or renounced the non-custodial parent without a good cause, then it is likely to rule that no relationship exists between the child and the parent. Although some noncustodial parents have wanted their support for the child to be reimbursed, the courts in New York have always declined to grant such reimbursements since they would amount to injustice on the side of the child.
In New York, the burden of proof during a constructive emancipation process is the responsibility of the moving party. Any allegations must be supported with evidence if the motion is to be granted. Since cases related to child support may be tricky, it is important to hire an experienced family law attorney when involved in such cases.