Emancipation of Minors Basics
Parents are typically responsible for their children, and are also required to feed, clothe, educate, and act in their children's best interest until the children reach the "age of majority" -- or the age at which (for most purposes) children are considered to be adults. Some states allow a minor to ask (or "petition") a court for a determination that the minor is able to assume adult responsibilities before reaching the age of majority.
What is Emancipation?
The term "emancipation" refers to a court process through which a minor becomes self-supporting, assumes adult responsibility for his or her welfare, and is no longer under the care of his or her parents. Upon achieving emancipation, the minor assumes the rights, privileges, and duties of adulthood before actually reaching the "age of majority" (adulthood). At that point, the minor's parents are no longer responsible for the child, and also have no claim to the minor's earnings. During the court proceedings -- and before granting emancipation -- the court primarily considers the best interests and level of maturity of the minor, and confirms that the minor is able to support him/herself financially.
Limitations on Emancipation
Even when minors achieve emancipation, they cannot take part in activities which, by law, may require that participants have attained an older age -- such as purchasing and/or drinking alcohol, voting, or getting married.
Close to half of the states -- including New York and Pennsylvania -- provide no separate statutory provisions for emancipation. Instead, these states rely on the fact that emancipation is automatically achieved upon a minor getting married, joining the armed forces, or reaching the age of majority.
Age Requirements for Emancipation
Generally, the statutory age at which a minor can petition a court for emancipation is at least sixteen years or older, but below the age of majority (which among the vast majority of states is eighteen years of age). California allows a minor of the age of fourteen to petition its courts for emancipation.