Under the law, parents or legal guardians are responsible for their minor children. They must provide the basic needs of the child, such as food, clothing, and shelter. Parents and legal guardians are mandated by law to care for their children until they reach the "age of majority." This is the age at which children become adults.
Some states allow minors to ask, or "petition," a court for emancipation. Emancipation allows the minor to assume adult responsibilities before reaching the age of majority.
Read on to learn more about the emancipation of minors basics, including the benefits and requirements involved.
What is Emancipation?
The emancipation of a minor is a court process through which a minor becomes self-supporting, assumes adult responsibility for their welfare, and is no longer under the care of their parents. Emancipation is usually handled in family court, juvenile court, or probate court.
In some instances, emancipation is automatic. In most all states, if the minor gets married, they are automatically emancipated. Additionally, if a minor joins the military, they are automatically emancipated. But some states still require that the minor petition the court for an order of emancipation even if they join the military.
The court will look at the best interests of the minor to decide. The court will consider the minor's maturity level and whether they can support themselves. They will look at the minor's living arrangements and other factors, such as the ability to financially support themselves. In short, a court will look at the totality of the circumstances before granting a petition for emancipation.
Once the court finds that the legal requirements of emancipation have been established and that a declaration of emancipation is in the minor's best interests, an order is entered, and the minor is emancipated. A best-interests finding and a finding that the minor is self-sufficient are paramount to the court entering an emancipation order. Public assistance programs may help an emancipated minor get on their feet immediately after the court order; however, whether benefits are available to an emancipated minor vary from state to state.
If the judge grants emancipation, the minor assumes adult rights, privileges, and duties before reaching the "age of majority." The age of majority depends on the law of the minor's state.
What are the Benefits of Emancipation?
There are several benefits that an emancipated minor may take advantage of. An emancipated minor may:
- Enter into a binding contract (including lease, rental, and purchase agreements) without parental consent and in their own name
- Handle their own financial affairs by keeping all income they earn
- Enroll in a school of their choice or withdraw from high school
- Apply for public benefits
- Make all healthcare, medical care, or medical decisions for themselves
For parents, there's no longer any legal duty to support the emancipated minor financially or in a caregiving sense. After emancipation, child support obligations also cease to be valid. Parental control ceases upon emancipation.
Limitations on Emancipation
Even when minors achieve emancipation, there continue to be certain limits on behavior. Other age laws still restrict emancipated minors. For example, they are not allowed to drink alcohol or vote. Some states, like New York and Pennsylvania, don't allow for emancipation under a statute. And other states allow for partial emancipation, which declares the minor emancipated for a limited purpose or purposes.
Age Requirements for Emancipation
Generally, the minimum age at which a minor can petition a court for emancipation is 16. Petitions for emancipation are sometimes made by 14-, 15-, or 16-year-olds. But the age at which courts have acknowledged or ordered emancipation varies from 13 to 18 among U.S. States and territories.
A petition for emancipation may be brought by a mentally disabled person older than the default age of majority (18) but who has not yet been emancipated due to their mental disability, for example. If the mental disability is not so debilitating as to preclude adult decision-making, the court may grant the petition to allow the person control over their finances so that they may enjoy the various social, legal, and economic benefits of emancipation.
Remember that the default age of majority has some amount of fluidity. It's not always 18 years old: In the case of a significantly mentally challenged person, they may not become emancipated until they are much older.
Have Questions about the Emancipation of Minors? Connect with an Attorney
There are many different circumstances in which becoming emancipated from one's parents makes sense — but it's not an easy process. Before embarking on the emancipation process, you should seek professional legal help. Seek legal advice and legal aid from an experienced legal professional. They can give you valuable legal information to help guide your decisions.
Consider meeting with a family law attorney licensed in your area if you have more questions or need counsel.