You're considered a child and under the legal custody of a parent or guardian until you turn 18 (in most states) and granted adult status, also called the "age of majority." Adults, of course, and minors who are “emancipated” don't need a parent’s permission to sign a legally-binding contract, get medical care, enroll in vocational school, or engage in other activities that otherwise require a parent’s permission. When a minor is emancipated, through court order or other means, the minor legally becomes an adult.
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 go about this, but the decision shouldn't be taken lightly. This article provides an overview of the emancipation process.
Should You Get Emancipated?
Many a teenager fantasizes about living on their own. But in reality, the day-to-day responsibilities can be overwhelming even for seasoned adults. This doesn't mean that there aren’t good reasons for moving out and getting emancipated. But minors must carefully 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 health care.
- You'll have to buy and cook your own food.
- You'll be legally responsible for all contracts you sign.
- 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.
- Your parents are abusive, neglectful, or otherwise harmful to you.
- You have moral objections to your parents’ 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?
It's possible to become emancipated without going through a complicated court process, but the options are limited and require 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 aged 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 the need for 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 you're 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. In California, for example, minors as young as 14 may become emancipated.
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?
Minor emancipation laws vary by state, but most 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.
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 of which may be given to doctors, schools, landlords, etc.).
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 for those with legitimate reasons and the means to make it on their own, it’s an important option. Consider speaking with a family law attorney near you to help answer your questions and plan for the future.