Understanding Child/Parent Emancipation

child parent emancipation

The parent child bond is one of the strongest ones there is. For most people, it’s a sacred relationship and one that lasts a lifetime. But for some young adults who can’t wait for the moment they’re free from their parent’s control, emancipation is a real consideration. Legally, parents are responsible for their children until their 18th birthday. When a child under the age of 18 petitions for emancipation, parents lose custody and all legal rights to their child. But it’s not as simple as a teen telling their parents they hate them, storming out of the room, or threatening to move out. A lot goes into the emancipation process. Below you’ll find a detailed explanation of both the child and parent’s rights and roles in this process, as well as what happens during and after a child is granted emancipation.

When Can a Child Become Emancipated?

In most states, parents are responsible for their children until they reach the age of majority (18). In some states, the age of majority is 19 or even 21 (in Puerto Rico). Up until then, parents are responsible for feeding, clothing, and providing shelter for their children. By law, a child can petition for emancipation as early as 16 years of age, except in California where children as young as 14 can legally petition for emancipation. In some instances, a life-changing event can result in automatic emancipation. These events include marriage under the age of 18 and joining the military, in certain instances. Because the military requires a high school diploma or equivalent for enrollment, most individuals entering the service are already close to the age of 18.

What Happens When a Child Becomes Emancipated?

While the idea of living outside of your parent’s control or rules may seem appealing to some young adults, being emancipated also comes with a lot of responsibility. Some of the advantages to minor emancipation include the ability to decide whether or not to attend school, make all medical decisions, work and keep all of their earnings, and sign legal documents without their parents present. Essentially, an emancipated minor shares the same rights as an independent adult. But this doesn’t mean that they can consume alcohol or tobacco or vote before the legal age as deemed by state law.

How Does the Emancipation Process Work?

If a child has not been granted emancipation for one of the above mentioned reasons (marriage/military enrollment), they must file a petition and go before the court. There are several steps to this process and they can vary from state to state.

1) File the Petition - The first step in the process is for the minor to file a petition for emancipation. This can also be done by an attorney on the minor’s behalf. This petition outlines exactly why the minor is seeking emancipation, as well as the minor’s current financial and living situation. This information will help the court determine whether or not the child qualifies for emancipation and if it’s in the minors best interest. 

2) Notify the Parents - Once the child has filed for emancipation, their parents or guardians must be notified. In rare cases, the minor may argue that there’s good reason for their parents not to be notified. 

3) Hearing - Next, the minor needs to appear before the court. During this hearing, the judge will gather more information and determine whether or not granting the minor emancipation is in his/her best interest. A variety of factors will help the judge make this determination including whether or not the minor is mature enough to act as a responsible adult, the minor’s current living conditions, financial status, and whether or not the minor is currently enrolled in school.

4) Declaration of Emancipation - If the court decides that the minor in question is entitled to emancipation, the judge will issue a declaration of emancipation. This declaration is a legal document that permits the minor to start life as a “free” adult. The newly emancipated minor must provide this declaration to all landlords, schools, doctors, or other officials where parent consent is normally required.

What Happens Now?

Once a child is granted emancipation, the process is legally binding. Any interactions between the minor and their parents from that point forward is by choice. In some cases, it’s actually the parent who requests emancipation from their child. This is done when a parent no longer wants to be held responsible for their minor’s actions and no longer want to be held financially responsible. There are also alternative methods that both parents and minors can take prior to petitioning for emancipation. These include counseling, moving in with another responsible adult or legal guardian, or using a mediator.

While the ideal situation is for children and parents to live together harmoniously, this doesn’t always happen. Sometimes, it’s in the best interest of both the minor and the parent to become legally separated. When it comes to the safety and well-being of both parties, emancipation can be a positive answer to a troubling situation. 

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Posted - 11/16/2018