Family Law

What Does Emancipated Mean? Understanding the Process

what does emancipated mean
Written by Fritz

Turning 18 brings a lot of changes to a young person’s life, including being legally independent of your parents.

But in some cases, minors can’t wait that long and may become emancipated before their 18th birthday. What does emancipated mean?

Keep reading to learn more about the emancipation process and what it means for minors and parents or guardians. 

What is Emancipation?

Put simply, emancipation is when a minor child is released from the care and control of their parents. Minor emancipation can happen through a court order or an operation of law.

Parents or custodians of minor children have a duty to support and care for them. Along with this duty comes the right to make decisions for these minors. Minor children can’t establish their own homes, file lawsuits, or enter into contracts.

This means that parents of minors can even instruct the minor’s employer to give their paychecks to the parent.

Parents of minors have these duties and rights until the child is no longer a minor – when they turn 18 years of age. However, this isn’t the only way for these duties and rights to be terminated. A minor child can become emancipated through a legal process. 

What Does Emancipated Mean for Minors?

Minors who are emancipated from their parents gain rights and responsibilities typically reserved for adults. Here are some examples:

  • Get married
  • Register for school
  • Create a will
  • Live on their own
  • Make decisions about their own medical and dental care
  • Enter into contracts
  • File lawsuits and be sued
  • Keep their paychecks
  • Apply for Medicaid and other medical assistance
  • Apply for food and cash assistance
  • Make decisions for their children

It’s important to note that there are some things that emancipated minors still can’t do. For example, an emancipated minor can’t vote or drink alcohol until they reach the legal age. 

How Does the Minor Emancipation Process Work?

Emancipation of a minor can happen automatically by operation of law or through the emancipation process by court order. Let’s take a look at how each of these forms of emancipation works in more detail.

Operation of Law

Minors can become emancipated without having to file a petition when certain requirements are met. For example, minors become emancipated when they turn 18. They can also automatically become emancipated when they get married or are on active duty in the military.

There are two other scenarios where minors can become emancipated without having to petition the courts.

The first is if a minor is in the custody of law enforcement and needs immediate medical treatment, but their parent can’t be reached in time. This is limited to nonsurgical medical care and emergency treatment.

This type of emancipation is solely for the purpose of consenting to medical treatment. A minor’s emancipation in this situation ends when the medical treatment is completed or they are released from the custody of law enforcement.

The second scenario is when a minor is a prisoner in a correctional facility. In this case, if the parent can’t be reached, a minor can be emancipated in order to consent to preventative health care and medical care.

This includes mental health care, surgery, and dental care. Like in the other scenario, the minor is only emancipated for the purpose of consenting to receive medical care. 

Court Order

Minors can also become emancipated by filing a petition with the court requesting to be emancipated.

Minor emancipation by court order requires that minors be at least a certain age, depending on state law where they live. A judge will review the petition for emancipation of a minor and decide whether the emancipation is in the best interest of the minor.

When applying for emancipation, a minor must prove several things. If you can prove that your parents don’t object to emancipation, the process is much easier.

If your parents do object, you will need to prove that your parents aren’t financially supporting you and that you can financially support yourself. You must also prove that you can manage your personal and social affairs and that you understand the responsibilities that come with being emancipated.

Parents are still required to support children after minor emancipation, but they are not responsible for debts the emancipated minor incurs. 

Minors who have a juvenile record may have a harder time becoming emancipated. Some states prohibit emancipation for minors who are on probation or completing court-ordered punishments. Other states will require certain conditions to be met for minors with a criminal record.

Some states won’t allow anyone under the age of majority with a criminal record to become emancipated.

The emancipation process can be complicated and hiring a lawyer can help you navigate the system and make your case. 

Can Emancipation Be Reversed?

The answer is yes, but it can be difficult.

Parents and minors can petition the court to cancel the emancipation of a minor. This involves filing a petition to rescind the order of emancipation. 

A judge will cancel an emancipation order if the minor and parents agree to the order being canceled or there has been a reconciliation and the family is living together again. The order may also be canceled if the minor is no longer capable of supporting themselves. 

Do You Need Help With the Emancipation Process?

Hopefully we answered your question, “What does emancipated mean?” The truth is, that the emancipation process is complex and depends on where you live.

Whether you are a minor filing for emancipation or a parent or guardian, an experienced family lawyer can help. 

Click here to find a family law attorney near you today. 

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Fritz

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