Emancipation is a legal process that frees a minor from legal dependence upon his or her parents. A minor is someone younger than age 18, according to the laws of most states.
State laws specify under which conditions a minor may receive emancipated legal status. Courts are reluctant to interfere with a minor’s legal right to parental custody, care and support and therefore hesitate before irrevocably severing the common-law bond tying together the parents and the minor.
Normally, emancipation occurs when a minor reaches the age of majority. A majority of states allow a minor to become emancipated before then. Two situations — marriage and enlistment in military service — automatically emancipate a minor where state statutes expressly regulate and grant emancipation by these means. Court-reviewed emancipation presents an alternative for individuals who don’t qualify for an automatic emancipation.
Court-reviewed cases of emancipation begin with a petition from the parents or the minor. The minor must fulfill specific conditions before the court will accept either the parents’ or the minor’s petition. Generally, the minor must:
If the court clerk decides that the minor meets the conditions of filing, then the parents or the minor may file the petition with a juvenile, probate or family court. A legal guardian, either a “guardian ad litem” or a “next friend,” may help a minor file a petition.
Petitions must contain proof of an income source; access to housing and medical care; employment, education or vocational training; and the ability to live independently from parents. Proof that the minor has met the final condition can be shown if the minor already has lived on his or her own for a certain number of months or years. Regardless of whether the parents or the minor petitions the court, the petitioner must provide the evidence.
The judge will grant the emancipation if substantial evidence indicates that it is in the minor’s best interests. Direct evidence, such as a recording of the minor being physically abused by a parent, is not required; however, circumstantial evidence showing that the parents endangered, obstructed or otherwise impinged upon the minor’s best interests is necessary in order to show a need for court intervention.
To define a minor’s best interests, the court considers his or her age, the mental and physical welfare of both the minor and the parents, and the ability of the parents to provide basic material support in the form of food, shelter, clothing and medical care. If evidence points to parental neglect, desertion, non-support, etc., the judge might be persuaded of the minor’s ability to administer his or her own affairs, earn wages and manage assets.
When a minor becomes emancipated, all legal responsibilities owed by the parents cease. Unless the court grants an implied partial emancipation, which emancipates the minor for certain purposes but not for others, the emancipated minor is responsible for meeting his or her own needs for food, shelter, employment, education and medical care. A court may grant an implied partial emancipation so that a minor may access and retain his or her own wages but the parents retain the assumed parental obligation to assert control over and provide for the minor’s welfare.
An emancipated minor possesses the legal rights of an adult. Thus, he or she may make legal contracts with others; conduct business; earn, collect and spend wages; attend any school; practice any religion; and work in any field. However, an emancipated minor still must comply with age stipulations governing the ability to legally drive, purchase and possess alcohol, and other actions requiring legal license determined by age.
Last update: Oct. 29, 2008