How Do You Get Emancipated?

If you're under 18 and believe you'd be better off on your own, you'll want to learn how to get emancipated. There are a few different ways to do this, but the decision shouldn't be taken lightly. 

You are considered a child and under the legal custody of a parent or legal guardian until you turn 18 years of age (in most states). This is when you are granted adult status, also called the "age of majority."

Adults and minors who are "emancipated" don't need parental consent to enter into binding contracts. They don't need permission to get medical care or enroll in school. When a minor's petition for emancipation is granted, the minor child legally becomes an adult and is no longer under parental control.

This article provides an overview of the emancipation process.

Emancipation: A Brief Overview

Emancipation is a legal process that allows minors to become independent of their parents or legal guardians before reaching the age of majority. The process grants the minor certain rights, such as signing contracts, obtaining a driver's license, and working without the need for a work permit. Emancipation is not an easy process. It requires a petition, evidence, and notice of a hearing to the minor's parents or legal guardians. Before undergoing the emancipation process, you should consider whether emancipation is the best option for your situation.

Should You Get Emancipated?

Many a teenager fantasizes about living on their own. But in reality, the day-to-day responsibilities of being independent can be overwhelming, even for seasoned adults. This doesn't mean there aren't good reasons for moving out and getting emancipated. But minors must weigh the pros and cons while making an honest assessment of their needs.

So before you pursue the process, you should ask whether you should get emancipated in the first place. Before deciding, consider the following:

  • You'll have to find and pay for a place to live (which may need to be furnished)
  • You'll need to pay for your own healthcare
  • You'll have to buy and cook your own food
  • You'll be legally responsible for all contracts you sign in your own name
  • You'll be responsible for your own financial affairs, and you'll be able to keep any income you earn
  • You may be sued and held financially liable
  • Being emancipated doesn't entitle you to vote or buy alcohol

Every situation is unique, but it may be a good idea to become emancipated from your parents under the following circumstances:

  • You're legally married
  • You're financially independent (and able to prove your source of income)
  • Your parents are abusive, neglectful, or otherwise harmful to you
  • You have moral objections to your parent's living situation
  • You've been kicked out of your house

If you've carefully considered your reasons for becoming emancipated and have a clear understanding of what it means to live on your own, it's time to explore your options.

How Do You Get Emancipated Without a Legal Declaration?

Becoming emancipated without going through a complicated court process is possible, but the options are limited and need a parent or legal guardian's permission. In some states, if you get married before reaching the age of majority, you may become emancipated without a court's permission.

In Pennsylvania, for example, minors ages 16 to 18 who marry are automatically emancipated. Government agencies in that state generally have the authority to decide whether a minor is emancipated without court approval.

The other out-of-court option for getting emancipated is by joining the military, which also requires a parent or legal guardian's permission. The legal minimum age for joining the U.S. Armed Forces is 17.

How Do You Get Emancipated Through a Court Order?

If you're not married or enlisted in the military or unable to get parental permission, you may file for a declaration of emancipation in court. Some states (like Delaware and Maryland) don't allow for the emancipation of minors by court order. Other states require the minor to be at least 16. For example, minors as young as 14 may become emancipated in California.

To begin the process of emancipation of a minor, the minor or their legal guardian must file a petition with the clerk's office. The petition must state why the minor is seeking emancipation and must be supported by evidence. The requirements for emancipation vary by state.

Minor emancipation laws vary by state, but some state courts charge a filing fee of between $150 and $200. You must file the petition with the court and notify your parents or legal guardians (required by most states). Then the court will schedule a hearing date.

States that allow for judicial emancipation will consider whether it serves the minor's best interests. The following considerations typically figure into the court's decision:

  • Are you financially self-sufficient (excluding government aid)?
  • Have you made stable living arrangements?
  • Are you mature enough to make adult decisions?
  • Are you enrolled in school or have a high school diploma?

At the hearing, the judge will ask questions and hear evidence before deciding whether you should be emancipated. If the court rules in your favor, you will be issued a declaration of emancipation (copies may be given to doctors, schools, landlords, etc.).

What Happens After Emancipation Is Granted?

Once a minor is emancipated, they become responsible for their own financial support. This includes child support if they have children of their own. Emancipated minors can also apply for public benefits and access certain social services without their parents' involvement.

But there are some limitations to emancipation. For example, emancipated minors cannot legally drink alcohol until age 21. Emancipated minors may still need legal aid or self-help resources to navigate certain legal processes.

Emancipation is not an easy process. You should consider seeking the advice of a social worker or legal professional before beginning the process. You should carefully consider the responsibilities and limitations of emancipation before pursuing it.

Learn More About Getting Emancipated

Emancipation from your family can be a touchy subject. Many young people who wonder how to get emancipated don't actually go through the process. But it's an important option for those with legitimate reasons and the means to make it on their own.

Consider speaking to a family law attorney to help answer your questions. They can give you legal help through legal advice and representation in court. Their legal services can help you get a certified copy of your emancipation order. They will also help you prepare your emancipation petition. Lawyers will assist you in navigating state laws and the laws of the probate, juvenile, or family courts.

Talk to a family law attorney near you today.

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Can I Solve This on My Own or Do I Need an Attorney?

  • Minor children can go through the court process without parental consent
  • You may need legal help to understand local requirements and emancipation procedures
  • An attorney or a local legal aid office can provide more specific guidance 

Get tailored advice about seeking emancipation and ask a lawyer questions. Many attorneys offer free consultations.

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