Understanding Child Emancipation

Family Law

In most states an individual under the age of 18 is considered a child and in the legal custody of parents or guardians. Child emancipation happens when a minor becomes legally independent of his or her parents. There are several reasons this may occur and a variety of factors a court will consider when granting emancipation to an individual. The following information details exactly what it means for a child to become emancipated, the reasons this may take place, and the legal process that is involved.

What is Child Emancipation?

When a child becomes emancipated he or she legally becomes an adult. This means the individual can receive medical care, choose where to go to school, and sign legally binding documents without the approval of a parent or guardian. In general, a person who becomes emancipated will assume all the responsibilities of becoming an adult. Being emancipated, however, does not allow an underage individual to buy alcohol or vote. Conversely, when a child becomes emancipated the parents or guardians no longer have any legal or financial responsibility for the child.

Why Should a Minor Child Become Emancipated?

There are several reasons a person under the age of 18 may want to become emancipated. A few reasons a minor may seek to become emancipated include if he or she gets married, has been kicked out of the family home, or is suffering from abuse or neglect. There are several factors that a court would consider before beginning the process. How the minor would be financially supported would be taken into consideration as well as where the person would be living. The court would also consider the maturity level of the minor and the person’s future plans, including ongoing education and job prospects. There are times when an adult seeks emancipation from a minor. The reasons could include no longer wanting to provide financial support or not wanting to be held accountable for the actions of the minor.

How is the Process of Emancipation Completed?

In some states a person who is legally married before the age of 18 will automatically become emancipated. Joining the military also provides an avenue to emancipation, but since current military policy requires a high school diploma or GED for enlistment most individuals who qualify will likely already be at least 17 or 18. The other way emancipation takes place is through the court system. In most states a person must be at least 16 to petition the court. In California, however, an individual as young as 14 can legally petition the court for emancipation. While the process can vary from state to state, there are generally four steps to becoming emancipated.

  • Filing a Petition – A petition must be filed by the minor or by an attorney. Specific reasons why emancipation has been sought are explained in the petition.
  • Notifying Parents – Parents or guardians are normally notified that a minor child is seeking emancipation.
  • Scheduled Hearing – During a hearing a judge will ask questions and evaluate the request for emancipation.

Declaration of Emancipation – If the court decides in favor of the petition a formal declaration of emancipation will be declared.