Emancipation refers to the court procedure in which a minor is released from legal parental control. Once emancipated, the minor (a person under the age of eighteen in most states) is free to make all of their own decisions without the consent of their parents. This includes decisions regarding their religion and medical matters, among others. However, emancipation also releases the minor’s parents from their legal obligation to provide the child with financial support, food, or shelter.
Legal emancipation provides a better alternative to escape from a bad family living situation, such as running away from home. It can allow the minor to move on with their life if they are financially independent and emotionally mature. As previously mentioned, emancipated minors are able to:
- Make their own medical decisions, including decisions regarding abortion;
- Sign contracts, such as leases; or
- Refuse to participate in their parent’s chosen religion, or participate in the religion of their own choosing.
States vary in their emancipation requirements and considerations. A minor in California may be emancipated when they are fourteen years old, whereas a minor in Texas must wait until they are at least sixteen years old. In general, in order to be emancipated from their parents, a minor must first bring a petition for emancipation to their state’s court. Some of the factors that are considered in all states when determining whether to grant a minor an emancipation include:
- Parental consent or acceptance;
- Marital and employment status;
- Stability of independent income, and the minor’s ability to provide for themselves financially now as well as in the future;
- Whether the minor is currently living with the parents they wish to be emancipated at the time they file the petition;
- Whether the minor can or has made arrangements to live with someone other than their parents;
- If the minor is capable of making independent decisions;
- If the minor is currently attending school or has graduated;
- The minor’s maturity level; and
- The minor’s desire to live independently.
Typically, a minor seeking to be emancipated must have their parents’ consent. However, if the parents refuse to consent, emancipation may still be successful. This can happen in some states if the minor is able to prove that denying the emancipation and that remaining in their parent’s custody would significantly harm them.
After an emancipation has been granted you an official decree must be obtained, which requires going to court in most states. Some states allow a minor to be emancipated if they join the military, or get married. Should the decree be issued, the minor will receive a copy in order to prove their status to schools, doctors, employers, landlords, and anyone else who would otherwise require parental permission.
The minor is considered a legal adult with all the rights, privileges, and responsibilities that an adult has. As such, the minor’s parents are legally released from their parental rights and responsibility to care for the minor.
Although the emancipated minor is now legally considered an adult, there are some things they still cannot do. These things include:
- Obtaining a driver’s license if they are otherwise under the legal age to do so;
- The purchase or consumption of alcohol or tobacco products, or other restricted products; or
- The right to leave school, until the age specified by their state’s law.
It is important to note that emancipation is not necessarily permanent, even once it has been granted and decreed. An emancipated minor may only retain this status so long as they are financially independent from their parents, and are living away from them. If they return home before the age of eighteen, or if they accept financial support from their parents, they may no longer legally emancipated. Their status returns to that of a dependent minor.
Additionally, emancipation can be revoked or canceled by court order. For example, emancipation may be revoked when the minor is convicted of a crime or is revealed to have lied to the court during their emancipation hearing.
Some minors under the age of eighteen cannot or do not want to continue living with their parents, but are unable to obtain an emancipation. One of the most common alternatives to emancipation is living with friends or relatives who have agreed to care for them. In those situations, the minor’s parents allow the alternative living arrangement either formally or informally.
Alternatively, if the minor’s home life is insufferable, they could contact their state’s child protective services or Department of Social Services. These services may be able to assist them in finding alternative living arrangements for the minor. However, it is important to note that that option may lead to extensive investigations of the minor and their family. This could result in foster care or even a group home placement for the minor.
For any minor seeking legal emancipation, they should contact a skilled and knowledgeable family law attorney. An experienced family law attorney can explain state law and emancipation requirements, as well as provide possible alternatives if emancipation does not seem favorable.
As can be seen, becoming emancipated is a long and difficult process that often requires multiple court appearances and filing numerous legal documents. An experienced family law attorney is essential to ensuring that the proper legal procedure for emancipation is followed. Additionally, they can represent the minor in court, as needed.