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Marriage Laws U.S. Teen Marriage Emancipation of Minors

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Emancipation of Minors

The word "emancipation" literally means to become free from the control or restraint of another. In the context of emancipated minors, emancipation is essentially a legal procedure whereby children become legally responsible for themselves and their parents are no longer responsible (financially or otherwise) for their children. Thus, emancipated children are freed from parental custody and control and essentially become "adults" in many ways.

Parents generally have the legal right to custody and control of their unemancipated minor children. Parents can decide where their children will live, what school they will attend, what medical treatment they will receive, and what religion their children will practice. An emancipated minor, on the other hand, is free from such custody and control.

Emancipation in General

As soon as an individual turns 18 he or she legally becomes an adult and is automatically emancipated from such parental custody and control. Likewise, when a minor marries or joins the armed forces (with parental consent and permission from the court), he or she becomes emancipated from his or her parents.

Although in some states a minor can become emancipated simply by declaring himself or herself emancipated, in California a minor over the age of 14 has to petition the court and obtain a declaration of emancipation from a judge a complex proceeding.

Some parts of the United States have quite liberal procedures. Louisiana and Puerto Rico, whose legal systems rely heavily on European law, allow parents to confer a limited form of emancipation on their children with very little interference from the judicial system. A number of states or regions such as Illinois and the Virgin Islands also allow an expedited form of emancipation with parental consent, although this legal procedure is only designed for older teenagers.

Declaration of Emancipation By a Judge

The Court will notify the District Attorney's office of the existence of the petition. The District Attorney's office will check to see if your parents are collecting support from you.  If so, they will oppose the petition.  If not, the judge will:

  • grant your petition; or
  • deny your petition;  or
  • set a hearing on your petition to be conducted within 30 days thereafter.

Declaration of Emancipation granted without a hearing

If the judge finds that all notice and consent requirements have been met or waived and that emancipation is not contrary to your best interests, the judge may grant your petition without a hearing.

You will pick up a copy of the endorsed filed document the next day when you return for your paperwork. 

Declaration of Emancipation denied

You may pick up a copy of the endorsed filed document the next day when you return for your paperwork.

Setting a hearing and giving notice

If the judge wants more information, he/she will order that a hearing be held at a later date.  The judge will determine who must be advised of the existence of that hearing.  The court clerk will contact you to notify you of the court's decision and that the paperwork is ready to be picked up.  

The court clerk sends out notice to the parties the judge designates with a copy to the District Attorney's office.  This is very important because the judge may be very strict about making sure that all parties were given proper notice before granting an emancipation petition.

The judge may, at the time of hearing, request that the parties undergo mediation through either the Family Court Services prior to making a decision on the petition.  At that time, your case will be continued to another date and you will be ordered to go set a mediation date.

Comparisons between Emancipated Minors and Adults

If a minor becomes emancipated, he or she is entitled to make almost all of his or her own medical, dental or psychiatric care decisions. He or she may enter into a contract, sue someone else and be sued in his or her own name, make a will, buy or sell property, and apply for a work permit without needing parental consent. The emancipated minor must take care of his or her own financial affairs and prove he or she has the ability to support himself or herself. The emancipated minor is still obligated to attend school and still cannot marry without parental consent.

The Court Proceedings

In some states, certain forms need to be completed and filed with the court. Minimally, a minor must show he or she (1) is at least 14 years of age; (2) willingly wants to live away from home with the consent or acquiescence of his or her parents; (3) can manage his or her own finances; and (4) has a legitimate source of income. The court must also be convinced that emancipation would not be contrary to the minor's "best interests."

Only the minor himself or herself may petition the court for emancipation. Some of the information that must be submitted with the petition includes a statement explaining the minor's current living situation, why the minor wants to be emancipated and by what means he or she is financially self-sufficient. Usually, the judge will insist that the minor must receive income from his or her own resources, such as wages, and not from the government (e.g. welfare). The judge is also likely to be concerned with existing medical coverage and other insurance coverage of the minor.

Minors are usually required to notify their parents about the petition for emancipation, but if the minor does not wish to, he or she is required to state in full detail the reasons why.

Once the petition and supporting papers are filed, the court can approve or deny the petition without a hearing, but more often sets the matter for a hearing. At the hearing, the judge is primarily interested in verifying that the emancipation is not contrary to the minor's best interests. If the judge is satisfied and the other requirements have been met, the court will approve a final document called the Declaration of Emancipation.

The minor will need to keep copies of the Declaration of Emancipation to submit to employers, landlords, doctors, school officials, and anyone else who might otherwise require parental consent.

Likewise, the emancipated minor may submit certain legal forms to the California Department of Motor Vehicles along with a certified copy of the Declaration of Emancipation so the minor's driver's license or identification card will show that he or she is emancipated.

Should circumstances change at any point in time after the Declaration of Emancipation is signed by the judge, the court does have the ability to revoke the order and notify the minor's parents of the revocation.

Choices Other Than Emancipation

Emancipation is only one of several alternatives available to you if you feel you cannot live with your parents.  You may want to consider other options such as:

  • family counseling or mediation service between you and your parents;
  • living with another responsible adult (aunt, uncle, grandparent, or family friend);
  • seeking assistance from public and private agencies;
  • an informal agreement with your parents allowing you to live outside your home.

Conclusion

Although the emancipation procedure is not exactly "divorcing" one's parents, it is a method whereby a minor can become free of his or her parents' control and responsibility. However, if there are statements on your petition that are not true or if you become unable to support yourself, the court may set aside the Declaration of Emancipation. Click here for a chart of emancipation laws for all U.S. States.)

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