Family Law

Emancipation of Minors: Children's Right and Privileges

By Kristina Otterstrom, Attorney
When a child no longer wants parental guidance and support, the law provides a way to sever ties.

What is Emancipation?

An emancipation of a minor is a little like a child divorcing parents. Sometimes it happens because a child is alienated from the parents or because the child wants more independence. Other times, a parent may ask a court to declare an older child emancipated in order to terminate child support. Only a judge can grant a request to emancipate a child.

Emancipated minor children are freed from their parents' control, as they are deemed totally independent and legally able to make all decisions about their own health, education, and welfare. Specifically, an emancipated child can make personal medical decisions, apply for a work permit, manage a bank account, enroll in school, and decide where to live. With all this freedom, also comes responsibility. Generally, parents are no longer obligated to provide financial support for a child who's been emancipated. For all practical purposes, once you’re emancipated, you're completely on your own.

While emancipation gives a minor child many adult privileges, some rites of passage are still governed by age rather than a minor’s legal status. For example, a 15 year-old emancipated minor still can’t vote, buy alcohol, or get a driver's license. Moreover, even if you’re emancipated, you can’t simply quit school. State laws vary, but typically a child can’t drop out of school before age 16 and sometimes age 18. Those rules still apply to emancipated minors.

When Can a Minor Seek Emancipation?

Emancipation releases a minor child from parental control before reaching the “age of majority.” While state laws vary, generally the age of majority is 18.

Certain states like California and Utah require a formal process to obtain an emancipation, which includes a court hearing before a judge, where the child or parent must prove one or more of the following:

  • the child is old enough to request emancipation (age varies across states: it's often 16, but can be as young as 14, such as in California)
  • the parents have agreed to emancipation, or
  • the child has the financial means and maturity to be independent.

You can obtain an emancipation using an attorney or filing the paperwork yourself. You may need to prepare for a court hearing. If you are the minor child, your parents will have to attend the hearing unless you have a compelling reason for the judge to keep them out.

There are ways to become emancipated automatically, such as by joining the U.S. military or getting married. Both actions require parental consent. With an automatic emancipation, you don’t have to file paperwork with the court—your emancipation is effective as soon as you’re married or enlisted.

Can I Lose My Emancipation Status?

Because legal emancipation is based in large part on a child’s maturity, an emancipated minor who shows consistent poor judgment can lose emancipation status. A judge will only revoke a child’s emancipation in extreme cases, such as the following:

  • the child is convicted of a crime
  • the child can’t meet basic financial needs, or
  • the child lies to the court during the emancipation hearing about age or school enrollment.

Typically, the parents will regain custody and control of a child who loses emancipation status.

Questions for Your Attorney

  • I’m mature, and I can earn my own living, so I want to get emancipated. My parents don’t want me to leave home. Do I need their consent?
  • I’m 15 and already emancipated. Do I need to get my parents’ consent to get married?
  • Can I receive Medicaid, food stamps, or other public assistance without a court-ordered emancipation?

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