Any minor who wants to be emancipated from his or her parents must file a petition with the proper state court and then meet the criteria set forth by the court, which typically corresponds with the minor's best interests. For example, the minor must be able to support him- or herself financially in order to be considered for emancipation. The Emancipation Procedure sub-section of FindLaw's Family Law Center includes an overview of the minor emancipation procedure, the legal effects of emancipation, an explanation of the so-called “automatic emancipation,” a state-by-state directory of minor emancipation forms available for purchase, and more.
Requirements for emancipation differ from state-to-state. In some states there is no court procedure available for minor's to seek emancipation at all. Those states that do provide emancipation, however, share some similar procedural requirements.
Minors petitioning their state courts for emancipation from parent's care and control must prove their age and their residency in the state where the petition is being filed. The minor must provide a reason for seeking emancipation and parents must generally be given notice of the proceeding. Parents may object to the proceeding. In Illinois, if a parent objects to an emancipation proceeding the case is terminated without emancipation. In Michigan, by comparison, a parent's objection does not automatically terminate a proceeding but is taken into consideration.
Next, the petitioning minor must show the court that they are mature enough to care for themselves. They must establish that they have the ability to support themselves financially, provide for their own shelter, and make appropriate decisions for themselves. States may require that minors already support themselves and live totally or partially on their own prior to petitioning for emancipation. Most state emancipation statutes exclude state financial support, general assistance, general relief programs, or welfare from the determination of a minor's ability to support themselves. Some statutes also specifically exclude criminal or illegal support.
The court also engages in a broader examination to determine whether emancipation is in the best interests of the minor. The standards for this determination often mirror the standards applied in child custody cases.
Criteria for an Emancipation Ruling
Although criteria for granting emancipation vary by state, courts are commonly concerned about:
- Whether the minor is able to support themselves financially, either currently or in the future without receiving income from crime or welfare.
- Whether the minor is currently living apart from their parents or has made adequate arrangements for future housing if emancipation is granted.
- Whether the minor is able to make decisions for themselves and may seek evidence of the minor's good decision making skills.
- Whether the minor is mature enough to function as adult.
- Whether the minor is attending school or already has a diploma that may be considered. This inquiry impacts the assessment of the minor's ability to achieve financial self-sufficiency.
- In cases where a pregnant girl is seeking emancipation the court examines whether she plans to care for herself and the baby or if she plans to wed the father, which would result in automatic emancipation in most circumstances.