Written by Nicole Dimetman on 01/15/2021

How to Get Emancipated as a Minor

People younger than 18 years of age are legally considered minors. They have not reached the age of majority

The age of majority is the age at which a person attains the legal right to vote in government elections. (Throughout the U.S., the age of majority is 18 years of age.)

The law presumes that a minor child has not yet reached an age where they’re capable of caring for themselves. In most cases, this is true. 

However, in exceptional instances, a minor child may be capable of self-care and wish to live without assistance from a parent or legal guardian. In such cases, it is said that the child wishes to become legally emancipated from their parent(s) or legal guardian(s). 

A child younger than 14 years of age cannot become emancipated. Therefore, the child in question is virtually always a teenager in emancipation cases.

Here’s how the emancipation process works. 

What does “emancipation of a minor” mean?

When a minor child becomes legally emancipated, their parent(s) or legal guardian(s) no longer have the legal right to control or even take part in their life decisions. 

Emancipated minors have the legal right to live under their own roof and come and go as they please. They no longer need to obtain their guardians’ or parents’ consent in making most life decisions. 

What are the rights of an emancipated minor?

After the proceedings are finished, an emancipated minor will have the right to:

  • Live where they wish; 

  • Eat and drink what they wish (although they cannot drink alcohol until they reach 21 years of age); 

  • Sign binding contracts in their own name (such as those required to rent an apartment or obtain a cellphone number);

  • Make and spend their own money as they see fit. (However, they remain subject to child labor laws, such as those limiting the number of hours a minor child can work);

  • Get a work permit and work without a parent’s permission;

  • Initiate a court process without a parent’s permission (for example, to sue someone else);

  • Obtain or reject medical care; 

  • Obtain their own health care insurance; and

  • Enroll in education beyond high school. (Attendance at a high school is required even of emancipated minors through age 18.)

Which rights are NOT granted to an emancipated minor?

Becoming an emancipated minor does NOT give a minor child the right to:

  • Drink alcohol before the age of 21; 

  • Have sex with an adult before their state’s age of consent (unless that person is their legal spouse); 

  • Be tried in a juvenile court if they are suspected of committing a crime. 

What does an emancipated minor give up in return? 

In return for freedom and responsibility for their own decisions, an emancipated child stands to give up whatever degree of security or shelter they might have enjoyed under the care of a parent or guardian. 

Emancipated minors become responsible for their own financial affairs, using their own money. Their parents and/or legal guardian(s) no longer have any legal obligations to provide financial support. 

In other words, emancipated minors take full responsibility for:

  • Making their own living arrangements;

  • Paying for their own living expenses;

  • Making their own health care decisions;

  • Attending school until 18 years of age;

  • Getting a learner’s permit and a driver’s license;

  • Obtaining a mode of transportation;

  • Finding a source of income; 

  • Paying for any education beyond high school; and

  • Obtaining legal services if the need should arise.

How can a minor become emancipated?

There are three ways a minor child can become emancipated:

  • By marriage (although any minor under the age of 18 must have their legal guardian’s or parental consent to the marriage);

  • By enlisting in the armed forces (although any minor younger than 18 must have their legal guardian’s or parent’s consent to enlist);

  • By obtaining a declaration of emancipation, which is discussed below.

Requirements for getting emancipated

To legally qualify for legal emancipation, a minor child must:

  • Be at least 14 years of age;

  • Have a plan for living arrangements following emancipation;

  • Be living independently with their parents’/legal guardians’ consent. Consent can be obtained from a parent/guardian after the fact, as long as it is filed in court. 

Even if a child is unable to obtain consent, the court may determine that the parents “acquiesced” — for example, by not strongly objecting to the separate living arrangements. 

  • Already be managing their own financial affairs. The court determines this based on evidence introduced at a court hearing on the petition for emancipation.

Perhaps most importantly, the presiding judge must believe the petition for emancipation serves the minor child’s best interest. 

The judge also will weigh emotional factors, since emancipation involves taking care of oneself not only financially but also emotionally.

If you are a minor child interested in becoming emancipated

Please be aware that the emancipation of minors is a complicated process that can take a lot of time and effort. 

For example, when it comes to showing you can support yourself financially, the judge may ask to see how you’ve been spending money. 

This is in addition to asking for proof that you have a legal source of income. (You can’t make money from any kind of criminal activity.) 

Filings required for emancipation

You may obtain emancipation forms from the court clerk’s office. The process involves a series of filings made with the court, each of which requires a separate filing fee. 

  • You will need to provide various legal and other documents, such as your birth certificate, Social Security card, report card, and work permit.

  • Your parents or legal guardians must be given a notice of hearing in advance of the hearing date. 

  • Your case likely will require a social worker to perform an evaluation. 

Once you become emancipated

After you are legally emancipated, you should obtain a certified copy of your declaration of emancipation. This is written proof that you have the legal right to make your own decisions. 

You may be asked to show this to your boss, landlord, school, doctor, and others who would otherwise need your parents’ permission for transactions or services.

In family law cases like these, it is always advisable to seek legal advice from a qualified and experienced family law attorney. Getting and paying for your own legal help can also help demonstrate your ability to operate with financial independence.   

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