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Emancipation of Minors Basics

Under the law, parents are responsible for their children. They are required to feed, clothe, educate, and act in their children's best interests 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. Read on to learn more about the benefits of emancipation and requirements involved. 

What Is Emancipation?

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 considers whether the minor is able to support himself or herself financially.

What Are the Benefits of Emancipation?

The benefits of emancipation are several. An emancipated minor can enter into a contract (including lease, rental, and purchase agreements), can sue, can enroll in a school of their choice (provided that the school accepts them), can apply for public benefits, can keep any and all income they earn, and can make any and all healthcare decisions for themselves. For parents, there’s no longer any need to support the emancipated minor, whether financially or in a care giving sense. After emancipation, child support obligations also cease to be valid

Combined, these provisions work to make it possible for emancipated minors to live and work on their own without the interference of a parental guardian.

Limitations on Emancipation

Even when minors achieve emancipation, there continue to be certain limits on behavior. They cannot take part in activities which, by law, may require that participants have attained an older age -- such as purchasing 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 minimum age at which a minor can petition a court for emancipation is at sixteen years of age (giving a two year head start in most states, where the age of majority is eighteen years of age). California, on the other hand, has a minimum age of fourteen to petition its courts for emancipation.

A petition for emancipation is not always made by a fourteen or sixteen year old minor. Many people see child actors and other young stars in the mainstream media and make certain pre-assumed judgments about the emancipation process. Emancipation is frequently seen as a method for minors, especially those with a substantial personal income, to protect that income from irresponsible, greedy parents. Though this is a situation that might justify an emancipation petition, there are many other situations that similarly justify the need for emancipation. 

A petition for emancipation may be brought by a mentally challenged person who is older than the default age of majority (18), but who has not yet been emancipated due to their mental illness, for example. If the mental illness is not so debilitating as to preclude adult decision-making, the court may actually grant the petition to allow the person control over his or her finances and enjoyment of the various social, legal, and economic benefits that come with emancipation.

It’s important to remember that the default age of majority has some amount of fluidity.  It’s not always eighteen years old – in the case of a significantly mentally challenged person, they may not become emancipated until much later.   

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