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Last updated: October 2014
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.
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.
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.
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.
Generally, only minors who have a special need for emancipation should consider it. Such special needs may include:
Minors who should not consider emancipation include:
Yes. 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:
You will need evidence of your maturity from witnesses such as:
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:
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.
No! You must agree, too. Parents cannot force children to become emancipated (until they turn 18).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Partial emancipation allows homeless minors ages 16 or 17 to consent to housing in specially licensed youth transitional housing programs.
Youth who are 16 or 17 who lack a fixed regular and adequate place to live and who have been living independently of their parents or legal guardians. This includes youth sharing the housing of other people, youth in a temporary shelters or minors who are unwilling or unable to return home.
Partial emancipation will only permit a youth to consent to housing in a specific transitional housing program. Partially emancipated youth will not have the ability to consent to housing in other programs or enter into valid contracts.
Youth seeking to become Partially Emancipated must first have attempted family reunification through a Comprehensive Community Based Youth Service (“CCBYS”) Agency. There must also be an available bed for the youth in a licensed youth transitional housing program. The youth can then file a petition with the Court that includes the following:
The minor’s parents or legal guardians will need to receive written notice of the petition within 21 days. The petition will not be granted if a parent or guardian objects to the partial emancipation. After the Court verifies the petition of a homeless minor, partial emancipation will be granted so the minor can consent to receiving services and shelter at the transitional housing program. A representative of the program may be required to appear to verify facts, but not other hearing is necessary unless requested by a parent or guardian of the minor.
A minor cannot be emancipated if he or she is under the guardianship of the DCFS.
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