Though emancipated minors are not common, you may have heard of some famous people who got emancipated when they were young. An emancipated minor is one who assumes significant adult responsibilities before reaching the age of majority, which in most states is 18.
Since no federal law regulates minor emancipation, state laws regarding it vary. In this article, we’ll discuss the various routes to emancipation a minor may take, as well as the associated rights and obligations.
What Is an Emancipated Minor?
An emancipated minor is defined as a minor who is no longer subject to parental authority, either because they have reached the age of majority or because the court has formally emancipated them.
Although the majority age varies by state, it is typically 18 or 19, with Mississippi and Puerto Rico having the highest at 21. Emancipation can generally be obtained through a court order, marriage, or military service.
When a teen attains legal emancipation, their parents (or legal guardians) lose all legal authority over the young person’s life. The emancipated minor has the right to choose where they want to live, as well as make decisions about their medical treatment, stay out as long as they want, and so on.
As an example, because parental responsibilities are no longer the same, emancipated teenagers can choose whether to refuse or consent to medical or psychiatric treatment without the approval of their parents.
What Rights Do Emancipated Minors Have?
In essence, an emancipated minor is treated as an adult in society, and we’ll go over some basic rights they have. Emancipated minors can:
- Keep their own financial earnings
- Get an employment permit and job without parental approval
- Take legal action and sign legally binding agreements
- Enroll in schools
- Live wherever they want to
- Stay out late
- Make their own medical decisions concerning adolescent health (including dental, psychiatric, and medical care)
However, emancipated youth will still be unable to do certain things and must continue to meet certain requirements. These are as follows:
- They cannot get married without their parents’ or guardian’s consent.
- They cannot vote until they reach the age of 18.
- They must either graduate or continue going to school until they turn 18.
- They can’t buy or drink alcohol until they turn 21.
- Minors can’t have sex while underage, depending on state laws.
How To Become an Emancipated Minor?
Because federal law provides little guidance in this area, emancipation laws vary across the United States. However, minors generally have a few ways of obtaining emancipation from their parent or legal guardian, which include having a judge declare you emancipated, marrying, or enlisting in the military, all of which we'll go over now.
Emancipation by Court Order
Not all states recognize emancipation by court order, but those that do often do so only in exceptional circumstances.
In most states, a minor must be at least 16 years old to file for emancipation, but in California, the age is set at 14. If the court determines that emancipation is in the best interests of the teen, it will grant it.
According to emancipation laws, the following factors will also be considered by the court in deciding whether or not to grant emancipation:
- If the minor is capable of making reasonable decisions and functioning as a grown-up
- If the minor is enrolled in school or has a high school diploma or GED
- If the minor manages their own money and has a legal source of income
- If the teen is currently living away from their parents or guardians, or if they have made other living arrangements with their permission.
Emancipation Through Marriage
With a few exceptions, marriage generally constitutes emancipation for minors in the majority of US states. Minors must follow state marriage requirements, as states set a minimum age for marriage and typically require parental consent or court approval before marrying.
Of course, there are some states that do not allow underage marriage, and these include New York, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania.
Emancipation Through Military Enlistment
A minor can legally become an adult by serving in the United States military. However, because current military policies require enlistees to have a GED or high school diploma, most young people wait until they are at least 17 or a bit older to obtain emancipation by military enlistment.
What Are Some Alternatives to Emancipation?
A young person may file an emancipation petition for a variety of reasons. Some minors suffer from physical or mental abuse and want to leave a bad home environment, while others don’t get along with their parents or guardians. Moreover, many teens in the foster care and juvenile justice systems try to survive by becoming emancipated at a younger age.
Even if everything is fine at home, they sometimes want to be emancipated because they just want to live somewhere else. As such, minors sometimes abandon the idea of getting legally emancipated, finding a solution in one of the alternatives listed below.
- Family therapy and counseling or mediation between the minor and their parents or guardians
- Living with another responsible adult family member or family friend
- An informal agreement with parents that allows them to live away from home
- Seeking help from both private agencies and government organizations.
If you've given serious thought to why you want to seek emancipation and what that means for you, it's time to start looking into your opportunities.
Emancipated Minor - Examples
It's no secret that many of today's celebrities were granted emancipation when they were younger. In such cases, the minor is often already wealthy, having come from a celebrity family or being a child actor, for example, which makes obtaining approval somewhat easier.
One of the reasons they may seek emancipation while underage is for tax and financial reasons, as they usually begin earning money when they are very young.
One of these celebrities is Jaden Smith, who sought emancipation at the age of 15, but eventually abandoned the idea. Other examples of child actors who were legally emancipated include Drew Barrymore, who was emancipated after a turbulent relationship with her mother, Macaulay Culkin, Alicia Silverstone, Juliette Lewis, and so on.
Emancipation From Parents - Final Thoughts
Many young people who wonder how to become emancipated from their families never actually go through the process because it is too difficult. After all, separating from one's family is a sensitive subject.
However, it’s a viable option for those who are financially self-sufficient and have the skills and resources to succeed in the long run. By consulting with a family law attorney, you can gain peace of mind and make an informed decision about whether or not to proceed with this life-changing choice.