Can a Minor Legally Move Away from Home? What Are the Benefits of Emancipation?
In their teenage years, many young people entertain the idea of moving out and being on their own. Are there legal restrictions on when a minor can leave home? In those jurisdictions that allow a minor to be emancipated at 15 or 16 years of age, how do the responsibilities of the minor and the parent change after emancipation?
How Can a Minor Become Emancipated?
Laws governing the legal emancipation of a minor all emanate at the state level. As a general rule, there are specific situations where a minor can be automatically emancipated by operation of law, including getting married or enlisting in the military. In other cases, the minor must file a petition with a court asking to be emancipated. Then, at a hearing, the minor must show the court that they meet the legal requirements for emancipation.
Though the specific provisions differ from one jurisdiction to another, certain requirements are found in almost every state:
- Minimum age— Some states allow a minor to be legally emancipated at the age of 14, but the most common age is 16.
- Ability to support self— In most instances, a court will not approve the emancipation of a minor unless there is evidence the minor can support themself.
- Demonstration of maturity— To obtain court approval of an emancipation request, a minor typically must show that they have the level of maturity to manage their own affairs.
- Notice to parents—A court usually will not approve a legal request for emancipation unless the parents are notified and have an opportunity to respond to and/or oppose the request.
Technically, a minor must file an emancipation request with the court and have that petition approved before moving away from home. As a practical matter, though, enforcement of emancipation laws is inconsistent. In some states, police only get involved in returning minors when they are very young.
What Are the Legal Effects of Emancipation?
An emancipated minor acquires some, but not all, of the rights of an adult upon emancipation. He or she can legally enter into binding agreements and may make personal healthcare decisions without intervention from parents. In addition, an emancipated minor has the right to work and keep all earnings, to prepare and execute an estate plan, and to sign up for college.
Emancipation will not, however, make it legal for a minor to engage in certain other adult activities, including the legal consumption of alcoholic beverages or voting.
How Does the Emancipation of a Minor Affect the Parent?
When a minor is legally emancipated, the parents are no longer legally responsible for the child’s actions. Most states have what are commonly referred to as “parental responsibility” laws, under which parents can be held accountable for the wrongful acts of a child. For example, it’s not unusual for the law to hold parents responsible for the wrongful acts of a minor child while driving a car. Other states hold parents liable for willful or malicious property destruction by their unemancipated minor children. Accordingly, parents of children who have moved out may want to take the initiative to have the child deemed legally emancipated so that they are no longer responsible for such wrongful acts. Without a court order granting emancipation, a parent can remain liable for the conduct of their minor child.
If a minor moves out of their parents’ house, that act, on its own, typically is insufficient to constitute legal emancipation. The minor must either obtain a court order granting emancipation or engage in an act that automatically confers emancipation, such as getting married or enlisting in the armed forces. Both the minor and their parents can benefit from obtaining a court order approving the emancipation of the minor. Minors have more control over their own decisions, and parents are shielded from liability for the willful and malicious conduct of the minor.