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.
Common Triggers for the Automatic Emancipation of Minors
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. In Michigan for example, the minimum age without parental consent is 18, but a minor can marry at the age of 16 with parental consent. There are even stricter laws in New York, where a county clerk can face misdemeanor charges for issuing a marriage license to anyone under the age of 14.
- 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 this can also vary by state.
Remember that even if your state does provide a court procedure to become emancipated, you can still reach emancipation automatically through one of the above options.
States with Unique Emancipation 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 of Minors: Court Decrees
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. 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; and
- Mature enough to function as an adult.
What Are Your New Rights After Emancipation?
Once you've achieved emancipation, whether automatically or through a court decree, you’ll generally have the right to, among other things:
- Reside apart from your parents where you wish;
- Keep whatever money you earn;
- Enter into contracts or leases;
- Be a party to a lawsuit;
- Buy, sell, or inherit property;
- Agree to medical treatment;
- Enroll in school; and
- Get married.
However, these rights are still subject to the laws of your state and minimum age requirements still apply to certain rights like the right to vote and obtain a driver's license.
Questions About the Automatic Emancipation of Minors? Contact a Family Law Attorney
It can be quite difficult to know where to turn for useful advice about becoming an emancipated 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 who can guide you through the process.