What is emancipation and how does it work?

Family Law Lawyer Rockville, MD

Many people know that family law lawyers handle matters like child custody and divorce, but the emancipation of minor children is also something that a family-focused law firm can address.

Parents (or court-appointed guardians) are legally responsible for their children until those children reach the age of 18, at which point they’re legally considered adults. This means that parents or guardians are responsible for providing food, clothing, housing, and education until their children reach the “age of maturity.” Parents and guardians are also typically responsible for making decisions about the child’s medical care and financial wellbeing. After this point, minors are automatically emancipated. However, in some cases, a child under the age of 18 may be able to become emancipated, or “divorced,” from their parents/guardians.

In order to become emancipated, the minor must submit a petition to the court and show proof that they are able to support themselves financially. They must show enough evidence to convince the court that they are ready to take on the responsibilities of adulthood before they legally “become” an adult.

In most states, a minor can become emancipated when they reach the age of 16. A few states allow for children as young as 14 or 15 to petition for emancipation. Additionally, if an individual possesses a cognitive disability that inhibited them from automatic emancipation at the age of 18, they may petition the court for emancipation at a later time if they become able to complete adult responsibilities. This is common if an individual is not ready to take on these responsibilities upon reaching the age of 18, but is eventually capable of making adult decisions and supporting themselves.

What are the benefits of emancipation?

Most families are used to supporting their children throughout adolescence (and, as is increasingly common, even beyond that point). However, in certain cases, minors may find that they benefit from emancipation — either because they do not have a good relationship with their parents/guardians, or simply for legal reasons. Some benefits of emancipation are as follows:

  • The minor can make medical decisions for himself/herself
  • The minor can enroll in a school of their choosing
  • The minor can enter into a contract, such as a lease or a loan
  • The minor can keep all the income they earn, and their parents/guardians cannot have any control over what happens to that money
  • The minor can enroll in public benefit programs

Of course, parents and guardians are still able to care for a child who becomes emancipated. The key point is that parents and guardians are no longer legally obligated to do so.  

Factors in Emancipation

Whenever minor children are concerned, family courts will always take into consideration the best interests of the child. Courts typically consider factors such as:

  • Education level of the minor
  • Maturity of the minor
  • Where the minor is living
  • If the minor had ever been abused by parents/guardians
  • If the minor has income and can support themselves financially
  • If the minor has reached the minimum age at which they can become legally emancipated

If you have any additional questions about emancipation, it’s recommended that you speak with a family law lawyer Rockville, MD offers at Daniel J. Wright for more information.