Does ROTC Participation Create an Emancipating Event?

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In a recent decision by the Massachusetts Court of Appeals, the concept of a child's emancipation was at issue. In Bobblis v. Costa (https://www.mass.gov/files/documents/2018/10/18/17P0557.pdf), the court ruled that enrollment in ROTC does not constitute emancipation pursuant to the parties' separation agreement, as joining an ROTC program is not considered entry into the military for purposes of emancipation.

Most separation agreements include boilerplate language regarding a child's emancipation - in this context, when a support obligation ends because the child achieves some milestone. Frequently, an agreement will establish that a child is emancipated upon the first to occur of, for example, the child turning 18, or - if the child attends college - graduation from college or that child's 23rd birthday, whichever comes first. A child's entry into military service is such an emancipating event.

The agreement in question in the Bobblis case provided, among several other options, that entry into military service was an emancipating event, as was graduation from college. The child at issue joined ROTC at the outset of his junior year. The issue was whether joining ROTC constituted entry into the military service. If the answer was yes, the child would have been emancipated at the beginning of his junior year. If the answer was no, then the child would only be emancipated upon graduation.

The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court's judgment, finding that the trial judge engaged in a comprehensive and thoughtful analysis of the issue. The judge looked to several statutes that clearly differentiated military service and ROTC programs. For example, ROTC enrollment does not necessarily mean that someone will enter active service. Instead, an ROTC participant can decline to enter military service and instead has to provide restitution for the cost of the scholarship. Moreover, ROTC participation does not confer the same benefits and entitlements as being a member of the military.

For these and other reasons, the judge soundly decided that ROTC enrollment does not constitute an emancipating event, and that the child was only emancipated when he graduated from college and joined full-time military service.

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