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Emancipation of Minors

It seems like every child wonders when he or she can be treated like an adult. The answer usually varies depending on whether they are asking their parents or the legal system. In family law cases, emancipation of a minor (also called "divorce from parents") refers to a court process through which a minor can become legally recognized as an independent adult. Through emancipation, a minor can take responsibility for his or her own welfare, and make the major decisions that parents typically would handle. Therefore, minors will generally need to establish their ability to independently live and support themselves before a court will grant emancipation. FindLaw’s emancipation section has details on emancipation laws as well as the procedures for minors to become emancipated.

This section provides information on the emancipation process, from the basics of emancipation law and age restrictions to the rights and responsibilities that come with it. In addition, some states have unique minor emancipation laws, which are listed in this section. There are also resources for parents, including a guide to when and if their legal obligations to emancipated children continue.

Benefits and Limitations of Emancipation

The benefits of emancipation are apparent to the minor: the ability to enter into contracts (including automobile and housing agreements), the ability to make their own education and medical decisions, and the ability to keep all of their income and determine how it is spent. For parents, they no longer need to support the child, financially or otherwise, and most child support will cease when the child is emancipated. However, emancipation does not make a minor an adult in terms of every law. Even an emancipated minor will have to wait until they reach the age of majority (usually 18) before they have the right to vote or get married. It should be noted that not every state provides the legal means for emancipation.

Requirements for Emancipation

Even though most emancipations are an effort to circumvent age requirements, there are still minimum ages that must be attained before a court will grant emancipation. These vary depending on the state, with some setting them as low as 14 and as high as 18 (where the age of majority is 19). There may also be notification requirements for the filing, and information that must be included in the emancipation filing, which can also vary depending on the jurisdiction. In most every case, a court will make a determination based on what it sees as the child’s best interests. Some factors would include the child’s financial and living situation, their maturity and decision-making ability, and any family history of abuse or neglect.

Procedure for Emancipation

In certain circumstances, emancipation is automatic. For example, once a minor joins the armed forces or gets married, they are generally considered legally emancipated. In all other cases, the minor will have to petition the court for emancipation. The threshold of evidence a minor must show in order to be granted emancipation will vary, but normally the minor must prove financial independence, adequate living arrangements, and sufficient maturity. As noted above, the court will look to the minor’s best interest when making an emancipation ruling.

Legal Assistance for Emancipation

While it may be possible to petition the court for emancipation on your own, it never hurts to have some expertise on your side. A qualified family attorney or a local legal aid office can provide more specific guidance regarding the local requirements and emancipation procedures.