Automatic Emancipation of Minors

When the word emancipation is used in a legal context, it typically means that a minor child has been freed from the control of his or her parents. Before children reach the age of legal competence they are subject to the control and custody of their parents - parents even have a right to minors’ earnings. Emancipation before a child reaches the legal age of majority is most commonly achieved through a minor's successful petition in the proper state court. However, in many states emancipation is not available through court petition, but only through automatic emancipation.

Automatic Emancipation

About half of the states do not provide a special court procedure for emancipation, so emancipation can only be achieved automatically, if a minor does one of the following:

  • Gets married - Each state has a different minimum age before you are able to legally marry. To find the minimum legal age of marriage for your state, go to FindLaw's State Marriage Age Requirements and select your state. You’ll find a chart showing all marriage age requirements for the state, and whether or not you’ll need parental consent to marry. Here are the marriage age requirements for Michigan and New York.
  • Joins the Armed Forces - You must be 17 to join, and if you are below the age of 18 you need your parent's permission
  • Reaches the age of majority – The age of majority is 18 in most states, but varies. To find the age of majority in your state, go to FindLaw's State Legal Ages Laws and select your state. For example, here are the legal age laws for Louisiana and Hawaii.

Remember that even if your state does provide a court procedure for emancipation, you can still reach emancipation automatically through one of the above options.

States with Unique Regulations

In Alabama and Nebraska, the age of majority is 19. In Mississippi majority is reached at 21, but emancipation can be granted by court decree at any age. The state of Michigan allows for a temporary automatic emancipation when minors are in police custody and emergency medical care is required. The minors are considered emancipated and allowed to consent to such care. This emancipation ends when the medical care or treatment is completed.

Emancipation Granted by Court Decree

To pursue emancipation through court decree, you can file for a declaration of emancipation without your parent's permission. If you need assistance with the process, you can contact a local or state legal aid organization. Each state has different regulations applicable to the process, and typically there’s also a minimum age requirement. To find the minimum legal age, go to FindLaw's State Legal Ages Laws, click on your state and look for "Eligibility for Emancipation." In California, emancipation petitions can be filed at age 14, and in Mississippi, there’s no minimum age requirement. Remember, however, that not all states allow a court to grant emancipation to a minor.

When a petition is heard, the court looks for criteria that indicate emancipation is in the best interests of the minor. The court considers whether you are:

  • Able to support yourself financially
  • Living apart from your parents or have made other living arrangements
  • Able to make decisions for yourself
  • Attending school or have a diploma
  • Mature enough to function as an adult

What Are Your New Rights After Emancipation?

Once you have achieved emancipation, whether automatically or through a court decree, you’ll generally have the right to:

  • Enter into contracts or leases
  • Be a party to a law suit
  • Buy, sell, or inherit property
  • Write a will
  • Enroll in school
  • Get married
  • Agree to medical treatment
  • Vote
  • Obtain a driver's license

However, these rights remain subject to the laws of your state, and there are still minimum age requirements that apply to the ability to vote and obtain a driver's license.

Questions About Automatic Emancipation? Contact a Family Law Attorney

It can be quite difficult to know where to turn for solid advice regarding emancipation as a minor, especially since the laws differ from state to state. Before pursuing this very serious legal process -- which will give you the rights and responsibilities of an adult -- consider contacting a family law attorney first.

Next Steps

Contact a qualified family law attorney to make sure your rights are protected.

Help Me Find a Do-It-Yourself Solution