Brian G. Paul
won a reversal in the Appellate Division on a precedent-setting interstate child support case. Under Pennsylvania law, a child becomes emancipated on the latter of their 18th birthday or their graduation from high school, meaning there is no obligation for parents to contribute to college expenses. In contrast, New Jersey courts have the authority to delay emancipation until after a child graduates from college, and to require parents to contribute to the cost of their child’s college education.
The parties in Marshak v. Weser were divorced in the State of Pennsylvania. The oldest child was emancipated upon her graduation from high school under Pennsylvania law. Subsequently, both parties and their children relocated to New Jersey. Upon the youngest child’s graduation from high school, Mr. Weser filed a motion to have the child declared emancipated under Pennsylvania law.
Because all parties had moved from Pennsylvania to New Jersey, both parties agreed that New Jersey had obtained jurisdiction over the case under UIFSA, the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act. UIFSA is a model act that all 50 states have been required to enact by the federal government to help insure that different states do not enter conflicting orders when dealing with interstate child support cases. While the parties agreed New Jersey had jurisdiction to decide the case, the parties disagreed on whether New Jersey law or Pennsylvania law controlled the issue of emancipation. The Trial Court concluded that New Jersey law applied, and ordered the father to continue paying child support and to contribute to the cost of college. Brian filed an appeal on the father’s behalf.
The Appellate Division noted that, when amending the UIFSA model Act in 2001, the drafters had included an official comment clarifying their original intention that the law of the state that enters the initial child support order would govern the issue of emancipation. Although New Jersey had not yet enacted the 2001 amendment, the Appellate Division agreed with Brian’s argument that the official comment to the amendment was instructive of the legislative intent when enacting the prior version of the statute. The Appellate Division further agreed with Brian’s argument that it was incumbent upon the Trial Court to consider other state court decisions on the issue, so that the overall legislative goal of maintaining consistent results in the administration of interstate child support cases was met. Brian pointed out that appellate courts in other states, including Pennsylvania, had previously concluded that the issue of emancipation must always be determined in accordance with the law of the state that enters the initial child support order. The Appellate Division proceeded to vacate the Trial Court’s order requiring our client to provide continued support for his younger son, and ordered that our client’s motion for emancipation be granted in accordance with Pennsylvania law. (2007)