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The Legal Side Of Emancipation Of Minors

Aug 17, 2007
Who wins and who loses? You might be very surprised at the answer to this question. If you have already formulated an answer to the question, by the end of this article, I hope you've changed your mind at least once. The reason? At first, you might think the issue is rather cut-and-dried. But, there is more to this issue than most people realize. Let me explain.

There are actually two issues associated with the concept of emancipation of minors: hard (or legal) and soft (or family/value). It is the hard side of the issue that most people think about; and, this is true of parent(s) and child alike.

However, the soft side is the one that makes the answer to the initial question so difficult to answer. The legal side gets it done, but the human side is what contributes most to answering the question. This article will discuss the legal side of the issue.

Depending in which state one lives in the United States, there may or may not be actual legislation enacted to deal with the concept of emancipation of minors. Some states have no real legislation in place but rely on common law, past court cases, or in some cases, court cases in other states, to help deal with the situation at hand. One such state is Maryland. Court cases dating back to the 1800's are cited when the emancipation issue is brought before the court in Maryland. This method of examining issues is called common law.

On the other side of the spectrum is a state like California, where specific laws (generally called Family Laws) have been enacted in an attempt to clearly deal with the issue of emancipation. For example, in California a minor can be emancipated as young as 14 years of age, but must meet strict criteria and file the appropriate forms with the Court.

The laws act as a guide to ensure that the child, the parents, and society all receive due consideration with regard to the emancipation of the child. Each of the three "participants" have interests or "rights" that must be protected and each request (or petition for emancipation) must consider the effect on all three participants before a petition can be granted.

In those states that haven't enacted specific laws to govern the issue, a child can be emancipated as simply as by being thrown out of the home. But, just as there are no laws that specify the procedure for emancipation, so is the "protection" issue not specifically identified and limited; therefore, there might be some unpleasant and costly surprises that result from this type of emancipation.

Where states have adopted specific laws governing the issue of emancipation of minors, these laws serve to delineate clearly the responsibilities and liabilities of the child and those of the parent. The paramount reason for these laws, however, is to ensure that the child's interests are protected and that he or she clearly understands their roles and responsibilities with regard to living post emancipation. Thus, society isn't left to bear the burden of poor decision making by having to support the emancipated child.

Generally, the emancipated child has these new rights:
* the right to sign a contract;
* the right to consent or not consent to medical treatment;
* the right to apply for a work permit;
* the right to enroll in a school or college.
However, the emancipated child gives up the right to be supported by their parents. Additionally, the emancipated child must still adhere to the following:
* they must attend school until the federally mandated age;
* they cannot get married without parental consent;
* they will likely end up under Juvenile Court jurisdiction if they commit a crime;
* sex is still regulated by federal rape laws;
* they cannot vote until age 18;
* they cannot drink alcohol until the legal age that applies to their state of residence.

The process of emancipation, in those states where specific laws govern the procedure, is fairly universal. The child requests emancipation by petitioning the Court and filing the appropriate forms. A Judge or Magistrate will conduct a hearing, assess the situation, and make a determination.

It's also important to understand that emancipation may not be complete; that is, there is the concept of partial emancipation. And, specific time limits can be incorporated into the declaration of emancipation, so it isn't permanent. In those situations, the Court will clearly define to what extent and for how long the child is emancipated.

If and when children and parents have mutually come to the conclusion that emancipation is in the best interests of both parties, legal counsel should be sought. It's extremely important that everyone understand their roles, responsibilities, and liabilities before going down the road to emancipation. Also, anger should never be the prime motivating factor for deciding on emancipation.
About the Author
John C. Blacker is the author of: Survival Strategies For Parents Of Troubled Children, a book offering options for parents struggling with the challenges of parenting troubled children and has a web site and blog that can be viewed at:
Information for Parents of Troubled Children
Please visit.
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