Marshak v. Weser

Brian G. Paul recently won a reversal in the Appellate Division on a precedent-setting case which centered on whether New Jersey or Pennsylvania law would determine the date of a child’s emancipation. 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 under Pennsylvania law upon her graduation from high school. Subsequently, at different times, both parties and their children relocated to New Jersey. Upon the youngest child’s graduating from 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 the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (UIFSA). UIFSA is a model act that the federal government required all 50 states to enact in order 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.

In reaching its decision, the Appellate Division noted that the drafters of the UIFSA model Act, when amending it in 2001, had included an official comment clarifying that it has always been their 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 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 other state appellate courts, including Pennsylvania’s, 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.

Click here to view the decision in Adobe Acrobat format (PDF).