Family Law

Emancipation: You're on Your Own, Kid

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Respect for Parents Day is celebrated in August. It's a day for children to think about, acknowledge and appreciate everything their parents do for them to help them lead healthy, loving and happy lives.

Love and respect aside, there are times when a young person no longer wants or needs his parents' support or guidance. The law provides a way for him head out in to the world and lead his own life.


Emancipation means freeing someone from another person's control. The Emancipation Proclamation, for example, freed those held in slavery during the Civil War.

So, emancipation of a minor is when a young person is freed from the control of her parents and he becomes legally responsible for himself before he reaches the "age of majority" or "legal age." That's the age the law assumes that he's an adult and can make his decisions and care for himself.

Although in most states the age of majority is 18, each state has it's own law, so be sure to check the laws in your state if you have any question.

Also, the how's and when's of the emancipation process varies a great deal from state to state, so be sure to check your state laws for the specifics. However, here are some general rules you'll likely come across.

What Is It Exactly?

An emancipated minor has most of the rights, privileges and responsibilities of an adult. For example, he can make his own medical decisions, apply for a work permit, enroll in school  and live where he wants to live. You are, for all practical purposes, on your own.

Parents of an emancipated minor no longer have any legal responsibility to support him financially; provide him food, clothing, and shelter; or provide an education for him. Also, the parents are no longer required to pay child support, and they can't be held legally liable for any personal injury or property damage caused by the child.

As a general rule, there some things an emancipated minor can't do, such as vote, get a driver's license, or buy or drink alcohol. Rather, you have to wait until you reach the age set by state or federal law. For instance, in many states you must be 16 years old to get a driver's license, and federal law sets the voting age at 18.

In addition, you have to stay in school until you reach the age set by state law that allows you to "drop out." The age varies by state, but it's usually between 16 and 18 years old.

How and When?

In some states, like California, there's a formal process you have to go though for emancipation. Essentially, you need a court to declare your emancipation. To do that, you need to prove to a judge:

  • You're old enough to ask for emancipation (only in some states). For example, in California you have to be at least 14 years old, but in Texas you need to be at least 16
  • Your parents agree to the emancipation
  • You have the means and maturity to take care of and support yourself
  • You're in school

In many states, you're automatically emancipated when:

  • You get married. In some states, however, you need your parents' consent and/or a court's approval to get married
  • You join the US military. Again, a minor needs his parents' consent to join the armed forces, and you actually need to be accepted by the service before you're emancipated

Generally, when a minor asks a court for an order or decree of emancipation, her parents need to be notified and given a chance to appear in court and either challenge or consent to the emancipation. However, your parents may not have to be notified if you can explain to the judge why you don't want them there.

In some states, a minor's emancipation may be revoked of canceled by a court. This may happen, for example, if he:

  • Is convicted of a crime
  • Can no longer support himself
  • Lied to the court in the emancipation hearing, such as by lying about his age or his enrollment in school

If emancipation is revoked, the minor is placed back into the custody and control of his parents.

Questions for Your Attorney

  • Do I need a lawyer to get emancipated?
  • Do I still need my parents' consent to get married if I'm 15 and I'm already emancipated?
  • Can I get Medicaid, food stamps, or other public assistance without getting a court order of emancipation?
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