Becoming Emancipated

Becoming Emancipated
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Last updated: June 2011

What is emancipation?

Emancipation is a legal term describing a child’s release from the custody and control of his or her parents or guardian. Emancipation occurs by law at 18, but a special emancipation order can be issued for minors between the ages of 16 and 18. This order allows minors to live independently from their parents and to exercise greater control over their own lives.

What problems can a special emancipation order solve?

Some minors who live apart from their parents or legal guardians find themselves caught in difficult legal situations. Unlicensed shelters or homes, which house minors, may risk criminal penalties if they do not notify parents of the whereabouts of their child. Police, judges, or other officials may force minors to return home against their wishes or to accept placement in a shelter or foster home. Landlords may refuse to lease to minors, and some government agencies may deny benefits or services to minors who do not have their parents’ consent. An emancipation order may help a minor avoid some of these legal problems.

If I become emancipated, what does that mean for my parents or guardian?

Once you are emancipated, your parents can no longer decide where you will live, go to school, or work. They can no longer discipline you or make you work or give them any money you earn. At the same time, however, they may also not have to provide you any financial support, unless you secure an emancipation order, which specifies that they must continue to support you.

Is emancipation an available option for every adolescent?

No! While every adolescent automatically becomes emancipated at age 18, only “mature” minors, between the ages of 16 and 18, can become legally emancipated before their 18th birthday. To become emancipated, minors must have proven that they can to manage their own affairs and already have lived wholly or partially independently from their parents. In addition, their parents must not object to the emancipation.

Who should seek emancipation and who should not?

Generally, only minors who have a special need for emancipation should consider it. Such special needs may include:

  • Problems getting housing because of your age or legal status
  • Educational barriers due solely to your age or legal status
  • Inability to enter into contracts because of your age

Minors who should not consider emancipation include:

  • Minors who need continuing financial support from their parents
  • Minors who will not be able to support themselves financially
  • Minors who have no special need for emancipation

Is it hard to be emancipated if you are between 16 and 18?

Yes and no. To get an emancipation order under the “Emancipation of Mature Minors Act” you must file a case in court and then convince the judge that you are a “mature” minor. You may find it difficult to get the judge to order that you be emancipated if:

  • Your parents object to your emancipation
  • You are seeking emancipation in order to qualify for public aid and you have no other income
  • You cannot prove you are mature
  • You still live with your parents and are wholly supported by them

How can I prove that I am mature?

You will need evidence of your maturity from witnesses such as:

  • Friends
  • Teachers
  • Counselors
  • Employers
  • Other adults who can say that you are mature

Remember that you are an important witness for yourself. How you act in court and your reasons for seeking emancipation will also make a big difference in whether the judge decides you are mature. In addition, the following evidence is very helpful:

  • A good school or vocational education record
  • A good work history
  • A reasonable financial plan for yourself
  • A long-range goal for yourself
  • Significant responsibilities, such as caring for younger children or older people, other volunteer work, or religious activities

If you have friends, teachers, counselors, employers, or other adults who can say that you have these signs of maturity, you may have enough “proof” for the court.

Can my parents force me to be emancipated against my wishes?

No! You must agree, too. Parents cannot force children to become emancipated (until they turn 18).

Can my parents still be required to support me if I am emancipated?

Yes! The court can order your parents to continue to support you as part of its emancipation order. An emancipation can be partial or complete: if it is partial, your parents will still have some duties or rights concerning you.

Can I get public aid if I am emancipated?

Maybe. Courts probably will not allow you to become emancipated if your purpose is to get public aid. Also, you might still be denied public aid because of your age. If you become emancipated and later find you need public aid, you should apply for it and should qualify as an adult.

Is “independent living” the same as emancipation?

No. “Independent living” is a term for special state-funded programs to teach adult living skills to older teens. In fact, if you are emancipated, it may be difficult for you to get into an independent living program.

Can I be emancipated if I am a ward of the state?

Yes. A Juvenile Court can order you emancipated from the Department of Children and Family Services on the same basis as any other emancipation for a 16 to 18 year old minor. Remember that if you are emancipated, however, you will not be able to return to state-funded care, unless the court terminates the emancipation order. If your caseworker recommends emancipation for you, be sure to talk with your lawyer before you agree to an emancipation order. If you do not have a lawyer search the "Helpful Organizations" section below to find free legal help.

If I run away from home, will that help me be emancipated?

Probably not. While most emancipated minors do live away from home, it is best if they are living in a stable location – such as with friends, relatives, or in their own apartments – before they seek an emancipation order.

How long will it take to become emancipated?

You should allow at least two months for court processing time before your petition for emancipation will be ruled on by the court. Unless you can get a special court order first, you will have to give three weeks' notice to your parents that you are seeking emancipation.

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