What Is Emancipation?

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Emancipation is releasing a minor child from the care and control of the minor’s parents. Emancipation can happen by a court order or by operation of law.

Parents’ Duties & Rights

Parents have a duty to care for and support their children. So do guardians or custodians who act like parents. Parents also have the right to make decisions for their minor children. Minors can’t enter contracts, sue in court, or set up their own homes. Parents can tell their minor child’s employer to give the child’s paycheck to them.

These rights and duties continue until a child turns 18 years old. But they change when a child is emancipated. Read the article My Child Wants to Be Emancipated to learn what emancipation means for parents, guardians, and custodians.

An Emancipated Minor’s Rights

Emancipation gives a minor many of an adult’s legal rights and responsibilities. An emancipated minor can:

  • Live on their own

  • Keep the money they earn

  • Register for school

  • Get married

  • Make a will

  • Authorize their own medical, dental, and mental health care

  • Enter contracts, including leases

  • Conduct business

  • Sue someone or be sued by someone

  • Apply for medical assistance, such as Medicaid

  • Apply for other assistance, such as cash or food assistance

  • Make decisions for their own child

An emancipated minor can’t vote or consume alcohol.

Emancipation by Court Order

Emancipation by court order starts when a minor files a petition with the court asking to be emancipated. A minor must be at least 16 years old to be emancipated.

The judge must order the emancipation if they decide it’s in the minor’s best interests. The minor must prove:

  • The minor’s parents don’t object OR

  • If a parent objects, that parent is not financially supporting the minor AND

  • The minor:

    • Can handle their own financial affairs AND

    • Can manage their personal and social affairs AND

    • Understands their responsibilities as an emancipated person

Read the article I Want to Be Emancipated to learn about how to get emancipated.

Parents still have to support a child who has been emancipated. Parents do not have to pay debts the child incurs after being emancipated.

Emancipation by Operation of Law

Emancipation by operation of law happens when a minor is automatically emancipated without having to file a petition. You are emancipated by operation of law when:

  • You are legally married;

  • You turn 18;

  • You are on active duty in the Armed Forces of the United States;

  • You are in the custody of law enforcement, your parent can't be located quickly, and you need nonsurgical medical care or emergency medical treatment. In this situation, you are emancipated only for the purpose of giving your consent to medical treatment. The emancipation ends as soon as the medical treatment ends or when law enforcement releases you, whichever happens first; or

  • You are a prisoner in a correctional facility, your parent can't be located quickly, and you need preventive health care or medical care including surgery, dental care, or mental health care. You are emancipated only for the purpose of consenting to medical care. 

Otherwise, you must file a petition for emancipation. This includes unmarried minors who are pregnant or have a child. 

Ending Emancipation

A parent or minor can ask the court to cancel an emancipation order. A court will cancel the order if:

  • The minor has no way to support themselves;

  • The minor and parent agree the order should be canceled; OR

  • The family has reunited and is living together again.

To end an emancipation, the parent or the minor can file a Petition to Rescind Order of Emancipation with the court. Read the article Ending Emancipation to learn more.