Emancipation of Minors

Terminating Parental Control of a Minor

Emancipation of MinorsIn most states in the United States, a person becomes a legal adult at the age of 18. Many states hold parents responsible for the acts of their children until they are 18, and many prohibit persons under the age of 18 from permanently leaving home without parental permission. A minor may, however, seek to be independent of parental control under a legal process known as emancipation. Every state has laws that permit some type of emancipation for minors.

Emancipation of Minors—Defined

The emancipation of a minor refers to a legal procedure that allows a person who has not reached the age of majority to terminate parental control. A minor who has been emancipated is free to make their own decisions, regardless of parental wishes. The minor will also, however, be fully responsible for all of their actions, including any contractual obligations. The latter fact is an exception to the long-standing legal principle that a minor lacks capacity to enter into a binding contract.

How Does a Minor Become Emancipated?

There are a number of different ways a minor can successfully become emancipated from parental control:

  • Judicial order—Under this approach, the minor files a petition, usually with the juvenile or probate court, asking to be freed from parental control. The petition is accompanied by evidence demonstrating to the court that emancipation is in the minor’s best interests. The court typically considers such factors as:
    • Age of the minor
    • Ability of the minor to be self-sufficient, including their ability to make a living and obtain shelter, food, clothing, and medical care
    • Ability of the parents to provide for the needs of the minor
    • Physical, mental, and emotional needs and welfare of the minor

    The court will consider all the evidence and issue a ruling either granting or denying emancipation. The parties are bound by the court order.

  • Implied emancipation—In many situations, the facts and circumstances of the relationship between the minor and parents imply or suggest that the parents have relinquished control or that the minor has severed the child-parent relationship. Evidence of desertion or abandonment by a parent or of failure to financially support a minor provides strong evidence to support implied emancipation. Additionally, a minor who has married or enlisted in the military will ordinarily be considered emancipated.
  • Express emancipation—Though rare, a minor may be expressly emancipated if a parent agrees to allow the minor to permanently leave the parental home and take up a new residence elsewhere, with their own income and assets.

What Laws Govern Emancipation of Minors?

The emancipation of minors is governed exclusively by state law. In about half of the states across the country, statutes (written laws enacted by legislative bodies) are in place that address how and when a minor may be emancipated. In all other states, emancipation is regulated by the common law, judge-made law handed down in legal opinions arising out of court cases.

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